Lee Enterprises, a trusted local news provider and leading platform for advertising in 50 markets, has entered into a definitive agreement with Berkshire Hathaway to acquire BH Media Group’s publications and The Buffalo News for $140 million in cash.
BH Media Group includes the Clarinda Herald-Journal, Essex Independent, Shenandoah Valley News and Weekly Times.
Berkshire Hathaway is providing approximately $576 million in long-term financing to Lee at a 9% annual rate. The proceeds from the Berkshire financing will be used to pay for the acquisition, refinance Lee’s approximately $400 million of existing debt, and provide enough cash on Lee’s balance sheet to allow for the termination of Lee’s revolving credit facility. Subsequent to the deal closing, Berkshire Hathaway will be Lee’s sole lender.
Serving communities in 10 states, BH owns the print and digital operations of 30 daily newspapers, as well as more than 49 paid weekly publications with digital sites and 32 other print products. BH had 2019 revenues of $373.4 million and adjusted EBITDA1 of $47.4 million. Lee has managed BH publications since July 2018 under a management agreement. The transaction also includes The Buffalo News, Western New York’s premier news source, which is separately owned by Berkshire Hathaway. BH real estate (including permanently attached equipment) and cash are excluded from the acquisition.
The addition of Berkshire Hathaway’s robust portfolio of high-quality local publications will add significant size and scale to Lee’s operations, bringing its portfolio of daily newspapers to 81 from 50 and nearly doubling its audience size. The transaction is expected to drive an 87% increase in revenue, a 40% increase in adjusted EBITDA and immediately reduce leverage to 3.4x before synergies. Based on Lee’s work managing BH publications over the last 18 months, Lee expects $20-25 million of anticipated annual revenue and cost synergies. As a result, Lee will benefit from a stronger financial profile and be positioned to de-lever more rapidly.
Mary Junck, Lee’s Chairman, said, “This is a compelling and transformative transaction for Lee. It both refinances our long-term debt on attractive terms and provides new revenue opportunities as well as operational synergies across an expanded portfolio. We have enjoyed a strong, long-term relationship with Berkshire Hathaway, which has been a significant investor across our capital structure for years. As manager of BH Media for the past 18 months, we have developed a deep knowledge of these properties and tremendous respect for their operators. We know first-hand the power this acquisition brings for further accelerating our industry-leading digital revenue growth while maintaining our focus on delivering high quality local news. We look forward to capturing the tremendous value of this transaction for readers, advertisers and shareholders.”
Warren E. Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s Chairman and CEO, said, “My partner Charlie Munger and I have known and admired the Lee organization for over 40 years. They have delivered exceptional performance managing BH Media’s newspapers and continue to outpace the industry in digital market share and revenue.
We had zero interest in selling the group to anyone else for one simple reason: We believe that Lee is best positioned to manage through the industry’s challenges. No organization is more committed to serving the vital role of high-quality local news, however delivered, as Lee. I am confident that our newspapers will be in the right hands going forward and I also am pleased to be deepening our long-term relationship with Lee through the financing agreement.”
Kevin Mowbray, Lee President and CEO, said, “Over the past 18 months, we have developed a strong bond and shared culture with the outstanding operators at BH Media. This highly collaborative relationship has driven digital and subscription revenue growth, margin expansion and continued innovation. We are confident we can achieve even greater success as one, integrated company. This unique transaction is immediately accretive to earnings, decreases leverage and provides compelling refinancing terms, while avoiding tens of millions in fees associated with traditional refinancing agreements and no intermediaries were involved. Most gratifying, it expands our partnership with a single long-term lender who shares our passion for the indispensable services we provide to our communities.”