Liberty Media unveils deal to buy online retailer

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John Malone’s Liberty Media on Monday announced a $477m takeover of an online retailer of meat, flowers and fruit as part of the media mogul’s effort to expand his company’s e-commerce portfolio.

Provide Commerce, which operates the ProFlowers, Cherry Moon Farms, Uptown Prime and Secret Spoon websites, will receive $33.75 per share from Liberty, or a 11.6 per cent premium over the stock’s closing price on Friday.

The transaction underlines Liberty’s effort to move to e-commerce and TV shopping following the disposal of overseas cable-television assets. Its largest unit is the QVC shopping channel.

In addition, Liberty owns stakes in Expedia, the online travel agent, and IAC/InterActiveCorp, as well as News Corporation. Liberty is in the process of creating a tracking stock for its interactive assets such as QVC, IAC and now Provide.

“We believe in the power of video to drive television and web-based retailing businesses and Provide is a compelling addition to our strategy,” Mr Malone said

Pending shareholder and regulatory approval, the transaction was expected to close in the second quarter of 2006. Jovian Holdings, which owns or controls about 29 per cent of provide shares, has agreed to vote in favour of the transaction or against other rival bids.

Provide, which had a cash balance of $60m as of September 30th, last month reported a narrower loss than expected in its fiscal first quarter on revenue growth of 34 per cent to $27.8m.

On Monday, Provide shares closed up 11.68 per cent at $33.76, more than double their value when the company went public in December 2003. They are 9.8 per cent down so far in 2005.

Liberty closed down 3 cents to close at $7.77, having lost 17.1 per cent of their value so far this year.

JP Morgan advised the company on the deal.

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