On Harbinger and The New York Times…

May 18, 2009

For the past week, there’s been all sorts of chatter that billionaire David Geffen is interested in buying The New York Times Co. (NYT). In this morning’s paper, Times media columnist David Carr examines various scenarios. Most of the chatter focuses on Geffen’s interest in the nearly 20% stake that Harbinger Capital Partners owns, though on Friday, the New York Post threw cold water on the scope of those discussions.

Consider that the back-drop for the 13F that Harbinger filed late Friday. The Times stake remained unchanged at 28,538,434 shares as of March 31 — the same as it was at the end of December, though the value of that stake fell dramatically during those three months. At the end of December, that stake was worth $209 million. By the end of March, it was worth $128.9 million. Of course, the problem with 13Fs is that they’re a very static snap-shot and lots of things can change between the end of the filing period and the filing deadline of 45 days after the end of the quarter. NYT stock is up about 31%, meaning that as of Friday, Harbinger’s stake is now worth around $170 million. And, needless to say, rumors of wealthy white knights coming to the rescue certainly don’t hurt — the day after the Geffen news broke, the stock closed at $6.99, its’ highest level since early January.

Of course, as Times media columnist David Carr points out in his column in today’s Times, “the 20 percent stake of the hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners is tantalizing to speculate about but not really material”. While it does include two board seats as part of a settlement reached last year, it doesn’t even come close to controlling the company. Still, there’s nothing like a good rumor to get other journalists talking — and writing — about the possibility of a deal.

Image source: New York Times

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