What is Here, There & Everywhere planning to do with that big pile of money?
Yesterday's sale of Ooh Media shares might simply be about taking a profit on a good piece of business. But most likely it means more
Welcome to Unmade, written on Wednesday morning in Morriset, on the edge of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales.
After writing yesterday’s Unmade on an iPad on a moving train, sitting at a desk today feels like a luxury.
Happy National Sandwich Day. I could easily dedicate the rest of this email to a treatise on why sandwiches are the most superior protein delivery system known to humanity… but I suspect that you’re barely tolerating my eccentricities as it is, so I won’t.
HT&E - Ready to play
There are few situations you’d rather have in Australian media right now than that of HT&E’s CEO Ciaran Davis.
At a time when many of his competitors are struggling to stay on top of debt, Here, There & Everywhere is sitting at the poker table with a big pile of chips, just as the final round of the game gets under way.
No media company has been through a bigger transformation over the last decade than HT&E.
APN had its roots in newspapers - the initials came from Queensland’s Provincial Newspapers group - and the outdoor advertising rollup of Cody, Australian Posters and Buspak.
After selling the newspapers to his predecessor Michael Miller, who had returned to the top job at News Corp, Davis rebranded APN as HT&E in 2017.
The company keeps leaving outdoor, only to choose to play one more hand in the sector.
It sold APN Outdoor to private equity, selling half to Quadrant in 2011 and the rest in 2015.
It bought out its joint venture partner Clear Channel’s stake in Adshel in 2016, before selling it on to Ooh Media in 2018.
And 18 months ago, the company spent $15m on a stake in Ooh Media. Yesterday afternoon it announced that it had sold that stake for $49m.
That could merely be taking a profit on a piece of good business. It was a canny investment when Ooh Media’s share price had plunged because of Covid. But for the most part, media company bosses don’t make passive investments in ASX listed shares. It’s not their job, and their shareholders could do that in their own right. They do it as part of a wider strategic objective.
The timing is also interesting, coming as it does just a few days after the company settled its dispute with the ATO over the sale of its NZ interests. That deal - not as painful as it could have been - already left HT&E with cash in the bank.
Back in May, the company agreed to sell its 25 per cent stake in Soprano Design, which would have realised $139m in cash and shares. And although that deal fell over, it could presumably yet happen.
So HT&E, already cashed up, appears to be in a dash for cash.
You don’t do that unless you have a wider strategy. Shareholders expect CEOs to deploy their capital, not to sit on it.
So what’s the plan? First,