专栏 - 从华尔街到硅谷


Dan Primack 2011年05月30日

Dan Primack专注于报道交易和交易撮合者,从美国金融业到风险投资业均有涉及。此前,Dan是汤森路透(Thomson Reuters)的自由编辑,推出了peHUB.com和peHUB Wire邮件服务。作为一名新闻工作者,Dan还曾在美国马萨诸塞州罗克斯伯里经营一份社区报纸。目前他居住在波士顿附近。

    2005年初,玛莎•斯图尔特生活全媒体公司(Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia)的市值接近20亿美元。当时公司创始人玛莎•斯图尔特已因内幕交易锒铛入狱,但瑞秋•雷尚未家喻户晓,玛莎•斯图尔特生活全媒体公司与凯马特公司(Kmart)的关系也还没有变糟。


    当然,不是正式的,而是以华尔街的隐晦方式。玛莎•斯图尔特生活全媒体公司宣布已聘请百仕通集团(Blackstone Group)的咨询部门“寻求”各种不同的可能性。这包括回应“已表示有意与该公司合作或对该公司进行投资的各方,”但一位传媒投行人士将此称之为烟幕弹。


    不过,这并不是说短期内不会有求婚者敲门。上周四,我和几家私募股权公司有过交流,他们表示尚未决定是否出手,但会在阵亡将士纪念日(Memorial Day,美国大多数州都要纪念的节日,时间原为5月30日,1971年以后,为保证联邦雇员都能享有这一休息日,许多州将它改在5月的最后一个星期一——译注)的周末后至少粗粗看一看。

    “这和我们大多数人概念中的业绩好转故事不一样,但看来该公司确实在努力挑战自我,”West Coast私募股权的一位高管表示,“该公司的营业收入基本上与市值一样。”




    我的猜测是斯图尔特将寻找一家私募股权公司,为其供类似于《花花公子》(Playboy)创始人休•赫夫纳近期从密西根投资公司Rizvi Traverse获得的交易。唯一的重要区别可能是斯图尔特要确定出资人有相当的新媒体经验,或至少知道如何不错失下一轮电子商务浪潮(如秒杀销售)。

    “如果一家公司有意进行大规模重组,引入私募股权是有意义的,”企业咨询公司SSA & Co.的总裁戴维•奈尔斯表示,“他们显然需要对核心营运业务做出相当大的改变,解决玛莎所谓的品牌呈现问题,进一步实施国际化扩张。私募股权完全有能力提供此类帮助。”

    In early 2005, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) was worth nearly $2 billion. This was after its doyenne namesake had served time for insider trading, but before Rachel Ray had become ubiquitous or the company's relationship with Kmart had soured.

    The intervening years have not been kind. Martha Stewart Living was valued at just $209 at yesterday's market open, thanks to expanding quarterly losses, negative EBITDA and less than $23 million in the bank. So it did what any desperate company does: It put itself up for sale.

    Not officially, of course, but in the coded parlance of Wall Street. Martha Stewart Living said that it had hired The Blackstone Group's (BX) advisory arm to "explore" various opportunities. This includes responding to "various parties that have expressed interest in potentially partnering with or investing in the company," although one media banker I spoke with called it a smoke screen.

    "It's a classic case of trying to drum up investors," he said. "If there really was significant inbound interest, then you probably don't do a press release."

    This isn't to say, however, that suitors won't soon be knocking. I spoke to several private equity firms today that said they are not yet engaged on the deal, but plan to take at least a cursory look after the Memorial Day weekend.

    "It's not a turnaround in the way most of us think about turnarounds, but it does appear to be batting below its weight," said one West Coast private equity executive. "Its revenue is essentially the same as its market cap."

    The universe of prospective buyers is actually pretty large, given that both mid-market and large-market buyout firms could handle the equity load. Interested parties would have to be comfortable with both the media and merchandising space (nearly 20% of MSO revenue in Q1 2011), but that's a small hurdle. The larger issue is Martha Stewart herself.

    As part of yesterday's announcement, Stewart said that she would rejoin the company board in once her SEC ban expires later this year. This is largely a formality -- Stewart is widely believed to call the company's important shots -- but how would a private equity owner handle her long-term? Would it continue the company's strategy of putting Stewart out front, believing that the person is the brand? Or would it decide that her personal popularity has waned, but that the brand itself can be reinvigorated without a flesh-and-blood mascot?

    Strategic acquirers also would have to answer the "Martha question," albeit in a different way. Specifically, would she be comfortable working for someone else. And, if so, how long would she be willing to do so? Would she require an Arianna Huffington-type deal, where she basically gets to reinvent another company in her own image?

    My guess, and it's only that, is that Stewart will seek out a private equity suitor that offers her something similar to what Playboy founder Hugh Hefner recently got from Michigan-based investment firm Rizvi Traverse. The only major difference may be that Stewart makes sure the sponsor has significant new media expertise, or at least ideas on how it can avoid missing out on the next e-commerce trend (e.g., flash sales).

    "Private equity makes sense if you assume that the company is interested in a large-scale reinvention," says Dave Niles, president of business consultancy SSA & Co. "They clearly need to make some pretty significant changes to their core operations, resolve what Martha means for brand presence and expand more internationally. Private equity is well-positioned to help with those things."