DealZone

He’s over here…

samuel-israel.jpgIn the end, he wasn’t in some sub-Saharan refuge, an Asian island paradise or a secluded European spa … fugitive former hedge fund manager Samuel Israel III (pictured right) was holed up in a mobile home (pictured below). Israel handed himself over to authorities in Massachusetts to start his 20-year prison sentence after having faked his suicide to avoid doing camper1.jpgtime. Israel, who co-founded Connecticut hedge fund Bayou Group, in 2005 pleaded guilty to a scheme to fabricate returns and cheat investors out of $450 million. He was sentenced in April. Police said his mother convinced him to turn himself over to police. If he was hoping for another shot at fleedom, he can forget about it. “There is not the slightest possibility that I or any other judge would release you at this point,” Judge Michael Ponsor told Israel before turning him over to U.S. Marshals.

Landmark Communications could announce the sale of the Weather Channel to a group made up of NBC Universal, Blackstone and Bain Capital in the next day or two, sources briefed on the matter said. The final price on the cable network, which produces national, regional and local weather-related programs, is expected to be between $3 billion and $3.5 billion, and likely at the higher end of that range, the sources said. The parties have been negotiating directly with Landmark since Time Warner withdrew its bid two weeks ago. There is always a small chance things could fall apart or slow down at the last minute, but absent any such unforeseen problems, the deal should be announced in the next couple days, one of the people said.

BHP Billiton said U.S. antitrust authorities have cleared its unsolicited $170 billion bid for rival miner Rio Tinto. The company’s announcement said the clearance satisfied part of U.S. antitrust law requirements. U.S. law gives antitrust authorities the right to re-open their investigation if new information comes to light before the transaction closes, experts say. However in reality, the United States has now given full clearance to the deal, not that U.S. opposition is a major issue for the mega merger. Problems are more likely to be raised in Asia and Europe.

British market research company Taylor Nelson Sofres rejected an improved approach worth 1.08 billion pounds ($2.14 billion) from WPP, saying it still preferred its merger with German peer GfK. WPP’s latest proposal substantially undervalued the company, said TNS, which had previously opened its books to WPP after rejecting previous approaches. TNS is the world’s third-biggest market research company, with clients such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever, while GfK is the world’s fifth-biggest and counts Panasonic and Henkel among its customers. A completed tie-up would step up pressure on market leader AC Nielsen in an industry which has become increasingly important as companies hunt for more information on their clients and services. Analysts have said from the start that WPP, which would merge TNS with its Kantar business, could disrupt the TNS-GfK deal, bidding up the price.

Storied New York public relations advisor Kekst & Co sold out to French advertising and communications company Publicis Groupe SA for an undisclosed sum. Kekst, known for advising on high profile financial takeovers, was founded in 1970 by its current chief executive, Gershon Kekst, 73, and employs about 70 people. The company, based on Madison Avenue, New York, has advised on more mergers and acquisitions than any other public relations agency over the last two decades, according to data from Corporate Control Alert. One industry insider who asked not to be identified, but is not involved with the deal, speculated that the transaction could be worth around $150 million. The figure assumes estimated profits of $20 million and an estimated deal multiple of 6 or 7 times, plus a premium, that person said.

Busy signals

vodafone1.jpgYou can’t tell the telecom mergers without a scorecard: France Telecom proposed a $41 billion bid for TeliaSonera to create the world’s third-largest broadband operator and fourth-biggest mobile company, but the Nordic company rejected the offer. Britain’s Vodafone said its U.S.-based Verizon Wireless venture with Verizon is in advanced talks to buy U.S. rural mobile service provider Alltel, potentially making it the top U.S. wireless carrier ahead of AT&T. Deutsche Telekom clinched a deal last month with the Greek government that gives it a 25 percent stake in operator OTE, and India’s Reliance Communications and South Africa’s MTN are also close to a tie-up. What is the deal? “In the current context of consolidation, it appears unavoidable to have critical mass,” said France Telecom Chief Executive Didier Lombard.

Verizon’s move in particular was a surprise as it came only seven months after Alltel was loaded up with debt in a private-equity takeover by TPG Capital and Goldman Sachs’ GS Capital Partners. The deal would value Alltel at eight times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, compared with its November sale to private equity firms for about nine times EBITDA, the source said. While TPG and Goldman don’t appear to have made much money, it doesn’t seem they’ve lost much either. It’s hard to imagine they planned to flip it after 6 months, but perhaps for private equity these days, getting out free is good enough.

BHP Billiton, the world’s top miner, said it sees no need to sell assets to win regulatory approval for its $170 billion proposed takeover of rival Rio Tinto, but did not rule out that it might have to. Chief Executive Marius Kloppers also said his company had not held talks with any Chinese entity about buying a stake in BHP. If it had, he added, it would have had to disclose the discussions to the market. BHP will send its takeover offer to Rio shareholders only after it has been cleared by anti-trust regulators in Europe, Australia, the United States, Canada and South Africa, expected later this year. It filed its application to the European Commission, which it considers one of the three key regulators on the bid, on May 30. The EC will say by July 4 whether it will approve the deal, open an in-depth investigation, or permit a short extension.

Waiver waivered

kerkorian.jpgFord got a boost from billionaire investor Kerk Kerkorian’s Tracinda, which waived a condition requiring it to bail on its tender offer for Ford shares at $8.50 if the stock fell by 10 percent or more from the close of trade on May 8th, when the stock was at $8.20 per share. It closed at $6.71 on Thursday, but was up about 2 and a half percent before the market opened Friday. Tracinda said it “continues to believe in Ford’s management and turnaround efforts and remains committed to its offer,” which expires at on June 9. Tracinda already has 100 million shares of Ford, and if it shied away from the tender offer, the value of its existing investment would suffer. That’s not to say it doesn’t believe in management, but the ring of the endorsement is perhaps a little less pure.

BHP Billiton‘s $180 billion bid for Rio Tinto appears to be yet another firmly inconclusive step closer to reality. The world’s biggest miner, in hot pursuit of unwilling Rio since last fall, has formally filed with the European Commission for takeover clearance. The European Union’s executive arm and antitrust regulator has set a deadline for consideration of July 4. By then, it must approve, extend (briefly) or launch an investigation into the merger bid. Rio spurned BHP’s all-share offer shortly after BHP was required to put up or shut up by British regulators on Feb. 6. The filing was delayed for months during pre-filing talks with the European Commission. Analysts say the most contentious area is likely to be iron ore, since the combined firm would control around a third of seaborne trade in the raw material for making steel.

Casino and racetrack operator Penn National said it was unlikely to receive necessary regulatory approvals before an upcoming merger deadline for its acquisition by a group led by Fortress Investment. Fortress and Centerbridge Partners agreed in June 2007 to buy Penn National for $67 a share, or $6.1 billion. In March, the company said the per share amount will be increased by $0.0149 per day if the buyout is not completed by June 15. Penn said approvals for the merger remain pending before a number of state regulatory authorities. Gambling and racing activities are individually controlled by states, so the company needs the green light from each state it operates in.