DealZone

Activist investor alert: Fisher Communications

July 10, 2008

kima.jpgCould investors in Seattle-based Fisher Communications be getting a little restless? The small broadcasting company recently disclosed it had received an unsolicited takeover offer from an unnamed party, which it turned down saying it wasn’t in the best interests of its shareholders.

Soon after, FrontFour Capital, a large shareholder, made public a stiff letter it sent to the company, expressing disappointment at the board’s unwillingness to engage in talks with the potential buyer. FrontFour, a New York-based hedge fund, said Fisher shareholders have suffered a 30 percent loss in the value of their holdings, even as the company spent money on acquisitions that have added little value. Fisher shares are down 38 percent since their 52-week high of about $51.99 August.

FrontFour also threatened “potential courses of action,” such as calling a special shareholders’ meeting or running a proxy fight at next year’s annual meeting.

Activist investor Mario Gabelli, whose Gamco Investors is Fisher’s largest shareholder with about 19 percent of the stock, has publicly held off on commenting so far. But a Gabelli & Co research note also suggested that Fisher’s recent “disclosure of interest” may help put the company in play. Gabelli analyst Barry Lucas said the takeover offer of $43 to $45 a share, which values Fisher at about $384 million, was a “low-ball bid,” and estimated $60 a share to be a more reasonable price.

Fisher might have a pacifier in hand for investors, though. The company, which owns several television and radio stations in the Northwest, is likely to come into some money — Lucas estimated roughly $273 million, just short of its current $291 million market value — soon from the sale of some assets. In May, Fisher said it might put up Fisher Plaza, a piece of real estate in downtown Seattle, for sale. Fisher will also get a neat chunk of cash from the sale of its stake of Safeco, which is being bought by insurer Liberty Mutual. While Lucas said this windfall should pump up Fisher’s value, the company might choose to deploy the cash to pay a dividend or make another acquisition if it doesn’t want to be bought.

A source said Fisher’s board is going to meet in the next few weeks to figure out how to spend the cash. Investors will have to wait till then to see how they will be rewarded.

P.S. Read the back story of how Fisher came to own Safeco stock here.

(Photo courtesy of Fisher Communications website www.fsci.com)

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