Pulitzer shares surge on possible sale

Monday, November 22nd 2004, 12:12 pm
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Shares of Pulitzer Inc. surged nearly 16 percent Monday, the day after the newspaper publisher said it was considering a possible sale or other options to increase shareholder value.

The company, which publishes the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Arizona Star and about a dozen other daily newspapers, said in a statement Sunday that no decisions have been made and no agreements have been reached. Pulitzer said it is exploring ``a range of strategic alternatives'' and has retained Goldman, Sachs & Co. as financial adviser to assist in its review.

Shares rose $8.69 to $63.50 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange, well above its 52-week closing high of $56.64.

The Pulitzer Inc. board of directors planned to meet Monday in St. Louis for what Michael Pulitzer described to the Post-Dispatch as a long-planned meeting to discuss end-of-the-year business. Pulitzer officials did not return phone calls Monday.

No decision has been made, Pulitzer president and chief executive Robert Woodworth said in an e-mail sent to employees Sunday. The process of exploring options could take months, he said.

``In fact, it is far from certain that any transaction will be reached or on what terms,'' Woodworth said.

``Pulitzer is one of the world's greatest journalistic enterprises and ensuring that tradition continues and thrives will be an important factor in the deliberations of the board and management,'' he said.

Pulitzer would likely sell for about $1.5 billion and would be attractive to several companies, said John Morton of Morton Research Inc., a Silver Spring, Md.-based media research firm. He believes the New York Times Co. may be the best fit.

``They are clearly in an acquisition mode,'' Morton said. ``And culturally, the two companies fit very well. They both have a long, honored journalistic tradition.''

Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the company does not comment on speculation about possible acquisitions.

It wasn't clear who else might be interested. Spokeswoman Tara Connell of Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company, declined to comment. A call to Knight Ridder Inc., the second-largest newspaper company, was not returned.

Decisions about the future of Pulitzer Inc. rest largely with members of the Pulitzer family because they own nearly 90 percent of the controlling stock. A listed telephone number was not available for Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Pulitzer Inc.'s biggest shareholder. She is the widow of Joseph Pulitzer Jr., whose grandfather built the company that became Pulitzer Inc. She has voting power equal to 49.6 percent of all shares, according to the proxy statement for Pulitzer's 2004 annual meeting.

Joseph Pulitzer was born in 1847 in Hungary and immigrated to the U.S. in 1864. He began working for a German-language daily the Westliche Post after settling in St. Louis in 1868. He bought the Post in 1869 and the St. Louis Dispatch in 1878, merging the two newspapers. He later purchased the New York World.

Pulitzer died in 1911, leaving Columbia University $2 million in his will. The money founded the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1912 and funded the Pulitzer Prizes, first awarded in 1917.

In October, the company reported a 13 percent increase in third-quarter earnings, citing growth in advertising sales.

Mergers of newspaper companies have slowed since 2000, when Gannett bought Central Newspapers Inc. for $2.6 billion and Tribune Co. agreed to buy Times Mirror Co. for $8 billion.

On Friday, Gannett announced plans to buy HomeTown Communications Network Inc., a Midwest publisher of newspapers, telephone directories and niche publications, for an undisclosed amount.