Ackerly Communications Inc., a Seattle-based company that owns about 11,000 billboards, the Seattle Supersonics basketball team and several television and radio stations, offered today to buy the Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. for $140 a share, or $156 million.
The Ackerly offer exceeds a $112 million bid for the company made earlier this month by Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. and several businessmen, including two former Dow Jones employes who are directors and employes of the Register and Tribune. The offer also follows a bid for the company last week by Ingersoll Publications, a closely held Connecticut-based newspaper chain.
Sources in Des Moines said they believe the Ingersoll bid is for approximately $138 million, but Ingersoll would only say the bid is "substantially higher" than the Dow Jones group's offer. Ralph Ingersoll II also has said that the company's bid is substantially in excess of $123 million, a figure quoted in an earlier Washington Post story.
"We are not in this to play games and make bids; we want to buy the company," said Lew Blakeney, Ackerly's treasurer. "We have some experience in television and radio, no experience in newspapers, and we see this as a good fit with our business."
Barry Ackerly, president and founder of the company, is a Des Moines native, Blakeney said. One investment banker questioned yesterday whether Ackerly has the financial strength to carry off a deal this large, because the company had $98.3 million in long-term debt and a negative $3.3 million net worth, or more liabilities than assets, on its balance sheet on Sept. 30.
The Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. has scheduled a Dec. 10 board meeting to consider the offers and other alternatives. Investment bankers said yesterday they believe the company's chairman, David Kruidenier, is under pressure from members of the Cowles family, which owns most of the stock, to direct a sale of the company. Kruidenier has said no action will be taken until the company's investment banker renders its opinion on the fairness of the Dow Jones offer early next month.
Kruidenier is one of five people who control a voting trust set up in 1978. Because the trust holds 52.7 percent of the Register's voting stock, any successful bidder for the Des Moines company presumably would have to win approval of the trust.
Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.'s thinly traded stock, which had been in the mid-30s prior to the Dow Jones offer, traded as high as $120 a share after the newest offer, according to Gordon G. Bowles, a broker with Piper, Jaffray & Hopwood. After the Dow Jones offer, the stock had climbed to about $100 a share.
Chicago businessman Fred Eychaner, who owns about 6 percent of the company's stock, also has expressed interest in the Des Moines company. He is not believed to have made a formal bid.
Investment bankers said several major communications companies are interested in acquiring the Register and Tribune but probably will wait to make formal bids until after next month's board meeting or until Kruidenier indicates he is ready to review their bids.
The Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. publishes the Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest daily, with a circulation of 240,000 daily and 400,000 Sunday. The company also owns several small newspapers, two television stations, four radio stations, and 14.3 percent of Cowles Media Co.