Consortium buys Univision for $12.3bn

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A consortium of private equity groups on Tuesday agreed to buy Univision Communications, the US Spanish-language broadcasting company, for $12.3bn in cash, in a buy-out structured with an aggressive financing package.

The deal capped a five-month auction for Univision and was seen as a sign of the growth of the Hispanic media market in the US.

However, many of the biggest US media groups – such as Walt Disney and CBS – failed to play meaningful roles in the auction, leaving Mexico’s Televisa and a handful of buy-out firms to battle it out in the final bidding.

The deal involves Texas Pacific Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners and Saban Capital paying $36.25 a share.

The equity portion is worth $3.85bn, making it one of the biggest, while the remaining $8.45bn will be financed by issuing debt valued at about 11.5 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. This is one of the highest multiples in recent memory, aggressive even for a fast-growing company.

These terms highlight the growing ability of private equity groups to make big acquisitions but will raise questions about the prospects of the businesses they acquire to withstand the rise in interest rates and any downturn in the economic cycle.

Televisa, which was widely seen as the frontrunner to acquire Univision, last week lost an edge in the auction after some of its private equity partners, Carlyle, Blackstone and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, stepped away because of concerns about overpayment.

In the end, Televisa offered $35.75 a share, along with its remaining partners Bain Capital and Cascade, Bill Gates’ investment vehicle.

Televisa on Tuesday criticised Univision’s good faith in handling the auction. “Notwithstanding our repeated offers to discuss all aspects of our proposal including price, Univision and its advisers refused to enter into any discussions with us,” Televisa said in a statement.

Although Televisa has a contract to supply Univision with some of its most valuable content until 2017, relations between the two companies have been sour for several years.

Televisa could still attempt a fresh bid for Univision but it would have to pay an additional break-up fee.

The Mexican group has also been considering a plan to launch its own Spanish-language network in the US to compete with Univision.

This could involve an alliance with US broadcasters such as Paxson Communications, NBC’s Telemundo unit, and McGraw Hill.

In morning trading, Univision shares, which had fallen recently over concerns that the auction would fail, rose 7 per cent to $34.30.

Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and Wachovia advised the consortium, along with lawyers at Weil Gotshal and Hogan & Hartson. UBS and Skadden Arps advised Univision.

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