Bidders vie for Clear Channel

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Clear Channel Communications, the biggest US radio station chain, was on Thursday preparing to field final bids that could lead to the company’s sale to private equity buyers as early as next week.

A deal to take Clear Channel private would be worth more than $17.5bn, making it the biggest leveraged buy-out in the media industry and another example of big family-run businesses abandoning the public markets.

Two consortia of private equity buyers have been competing to acquire Clear Channel, and are expected to submit strong bids by this weekend’s deadline.

An agreement could be reached in the following days if the company’s board was satisfied with the price, said people familiar with the matter.

The front runner to buy Clear Channel, founded in Texas 34 years ago by Lowry Mays, the current chairman, is a group consisting of Providence Equity Partners, Blackstone, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

Also participating in the auction is a consortium including Bain Capital, Texas Pacific Group, and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

Carlyle Group and Apollo Management have taken a look at Clear Channel but are not considered strong contenders.

Clear Channel, which hired investment bankers at Goldman Sachs to help it assess the offers, said on October 26 that it was “evaluating various strategic alternatives to enhance shareholder value”.

The company’s shares, which have risen more than 20 per cent over the past three months, were trading down 0.6 per cent at $34.68 on Thursday morning.

To be successful, bidders will need some level of approval from Clear Channel’s founding family, which owns a 7 per cent stake.

Other family members with positions in the group are Mark Mays, chief executive, and Randall Mays, chief financial officer.

Clear Channel owns 1,200 radio stations, reaching 110m listeners each week, making it one of the most powerful forces in US media.

One question mark is whether the new owners of the company might seek to sell its 90 per cent stake in the outdoor advertising unit, which was spun off last year and is now worth more than $8bn.

France’s JCDecaux has said it is interested in Clear Channel’s Outdoor unit, which sells advertising space on billboards, taxis and bus shelters, should it be put up for sale either in its entirety or in pieces.

However, such a deal might not make financial sense for tax reasons, and could face antitrust obstacles in Europe.

Additional reporting by Adam Jones in Paris

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