Special Report: Berkshire Hathaway to Make $1.3 Billion on Sale of Newspapers to Lee Enterprises

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Berkshire Hathaway’s sale of its BH Media newspaper empire to Lee Enterprises will get Warren Buffett and Berkshire out of the newspaper business, and the good news it won’t be at a loss. Berkshire Hathaway will make a bundle on the deal.

Berkshire is selling BH Media Group’s publications and The Buffalo News for $140 million in cash, and providing approximately $576 million in long-term financing to Lee at a 9% annual rate.

What’s more, Lee Enterprises will lease also the existing newspapers’ facilities from Berkshire, including assuming the maintenance and upkeep costs, giving Berkshire an additional long term revenue stream.

Anyone that worries about Berkshire’s ability to collect on its loan can take comfort that the deal actually strengthens Lee’s balance sheet.

The proceeds Lee receives from the Berkshire financing will be used to pay for the acquisition, refinance Lee’s approximately $400 million of existing debt, and provide enough cash on Lee’s balance sheet to allow for the termination of Lee’s existing revolving credit facility. The financing requires no fees, will result in approximately $5 million of interest rate savings on Lee’s refinanced debt annually.

The transaction is expected to drive an 87% increase in revenue for Lee Enterprises, a 40% increase in adjusted EBITDA and immediately reduce leverage to 3.4x before synergies. Based on Lee’s work managing BHMG publications over the last 18 months, Lee expects $20-25 million of anticipated annual revenue and cost synergies. As a result, Lee will benefit from a stronger financial profile and be positioned to de-lever more rapidly.

Subsequent to the deal closing, Berkshire Hathaway will be Lee’s sole lender, putting Berkshire in first position in case of default.

The deal will reduce Lee’s leverage from 3.5x to 3.4x, before any cost and revenue synergies. Lee has identified approximately $20-25 million of highly achievable annual synergies, including revenue synergies from the management of digital advertising and subscriber programs, and cost synergies, primarily from the reduction of administrative expenses. Lee expects to achieve the full synergy run-rate within 24 months of closing, which is expected in mid-March 2020, subject to customary regulatory approvals.

Lee Enterprises is a longtime favorite of Warren Buffett, and it has moved in and out of his portfolio at various points. Lee has managed BHMG’s publications since July 2018 under a management agreement, and Buffett was clearly positioning Berkshire to get out of the newspaper business, no matter how much affection he had for ink stained paper.

A Windfall for Berkshire

In the end, Berkshire gets out of a declining business that had negligible impact on its balance sheet, can look forward to $1.296 billion in interest payments on its loan to Lee, and another $80 million in lease payments for the 10 years of its lease agreement. There could be significantly more if those leases renew.

How does Buffett feel about it? Buffett said, “My partner Charlie Munger and I have known and admired the Lee organization for over 40 years. They have delivered exceptional performance managing BH Media’s newspapers and continue to outpace the industry in digital market share and revenue. We had zero interest in selling the group to anyone else for one simple reason: We believe that Lee is best positioned to manage through the industry’s challenges. No organization is more committed to serving the vital role of high-quality local news, however delivered, as Lee. I am confident that our newspapers will be in the right hands going forward and I also am pleased to be deepening our long-term relationship with Lee through the financing agreement.”

Warren Buffett has built Berkshire Hathaway into a half-trillion-dollar conglomerate through acquisitions, but he’s not afraid to sell on occasion, especially when the deal means long term profits with no costs.

© 2020 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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