September 1, 2010 8:48 pm

Kelley Blue Book for sale, sources say

This article is provided to FT.com readers by mergermarket—a news service focused on providing actionable, origination intelligence to M&A professionals. www.mergermarket.com
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Kelley Blue Book, the family-owned automotive information provider, has hired a bank for a sale, two bankers claiming knowledge of the situation told mergermarket.

JP Morgan was retained within the past few weeks for the sale process, one of the bankers said.

A spokesperson for the Irvine, California-based company declined comment. Kelley Blue Book was founded by Les Kelley in 1926 and its online arm, kbb.com, was launched in 1995.

The second banker said Kelley Blue Book is likely to be valued between USD 500m and USD 1bn.

AutoTrader.com, which recently sold a 25% stake to Providence Equity Partners, is said to be the lead bidder, the first banker said, adding that both financial and strategic suitors are involved in the process. He mentioned KKR as a likely bidder. EBay and Googlealso would be logical bidders for this asset, he said.

A third banker who had heard rumors of the sale said the 2011 hike in capital gains taxes from 15% to 20% likely played a part in the decision to sell. The company has also seen traffic to its website atrophy in recent years, he said. According to Quantcast.com, traffic has been trending downwards, from about nine million in July 2007 to seven million in July 2010. France-based Lagardère Active, which owns Jumpstart Automotive, could be added to the list of possible bidders for Kelley Blue Book, the banker said. Kelley Blue Book competes head to head withEdmunds.com, another closely-held company based near Los Angeles.

In 2000, Les Kelley’s grandson Bob and great grandson Mike retired from the company, according to its website. No Kelleys currently serve on the company’s executive management team.

JP Morgan did not respond to calls seeking comment.

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