| Denis Duettmann |
New York/Mexico City (dpa) – The global financial crisis brought together Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim and prestigious US newspaper The New York Times.
In the middle of the severe recession of 2009, the billionaire came to the rescue of the traditional East Coast daily with a 250-million-dollar loan. This gave the newspaper enough time to sell its sister daily The Boston Globe and sort out its finances.
Five years later, telecommunications tycoon Slim became The New York Times’ largest public shareholder. On Wednesday, he made use of low-price options he had been granted at the time of his loan, and bought 15.9 million shares for 101.1 million dollars.
That means the Mexican businessman now owns a 16.8-per-cent stake in the paper’s publicly-traded Class A shares. The descendants of Adolph Ochs, who bought the paper in 1896, still control the company through their Class B shares.
Slim is hardly the only super-rich man to have invested in a newspaper. While journalists and publishers debate the crisis in traditional print media, more and more investors from outside the media industry are buying in.
In 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos caused a stir when he took over the Washington Post. Like other newspapers, the daily in the US capital had been dealing for years with dwindling advertising sales and a falling circulation.
Bezos apparently did not intend to be a silent owner. One month after his takeover, he addressed editors and reporters to explain his vision for it.
“The number one rule has to be: Don’t be boring,” Bezos told them.
Last year, he replaced publisher Katharine Weymouth, a member of the Graham family that sold the Post to Bezos, with Fred Ryan, who came in from the newspaper’s online competitor Politico.
US star investor Warren Buffett has bought scores of local newspapers across the United States. Along with large companies like American Express, Coca-Cola, IBM and Wells Fargo, the portfolio of Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway now sports the Omaha World-Herald in his home city in Nebraska and the Jackson County Floridan, among other newspapers.
Buffett has admitted that the internet poses a huge challenge to national newspapers. However, he stresses that newspapers that follow local news can remain profitable.
“If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job,” he wrote after buying 28 dailies around the United States.
Slim has a soft spot for the printed word too.
“I am a paper man. Little bits of paper talk,” he said in 2008, when he first invested in The New York Times with a 6.9-per-cent stake.
If anyone thinks that the world’s second-wealthiest man according to Forbes magazine is investing out of nostalgia, they clearly do not know Slim. In Mexico, the 74-year-old called King Midas: he turns into gold everything he touches, people say.
In fact, Slim already has realised a return on his 2009 investment in the Times: his original loan has long been paid back and, according to media reports, he got 122 million dollars in interest and a premium because The New York Times paid the loan back early.
Slim’s son-in-law and spokesman Arturo Elias Ayub told The Wall Street Journal his investment is based on sound financial reasoning. Slim will get 1.1 million dollars in dividends per quarter, but there is more to it than that.
The 2009 options allowed the tycoon to get his latest share package for barely half its current price. Given the current share price, it would have been crazy not to exercise the options, Elias Ayub said.
If Slim were to put those shares on the market again now, he would be making a profit of almost 100 million dollars. And yet Slim does not intend to sell straightaway, but rather wants to hold on to them for the medium term.
“We continue to have confidence in the management, we think they are doing things well,” said Elias Ayub. “The Times is a valuable brand, not just a newspaper but a content producer.”