* Hires Blackstone to examine options
* Approached about partnerships, investment deals
* Martha Stewart expected to rejoin board in third quarter
* Shares jump 23 percent
(Adds comments from Stewart, analyst)
By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK, May 25 Martha Stewart, the home decor
and cooking doyenne, may sell her company or find a partner for
it after hiring bankers to explore its options.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's MSO.N move to hire the
Blackstone Group (BX.N) -- news of which sent shares of the
company up more than 20 percent -- comes after several years of
sales declines in its magazine publishing, television and
merchandising businesses. Between 2007 and 2010, revenue fell
by more than a quarter.
The company, whose stock market value is just above $200
million, said on Wednesday that it hired Blackstone after other
parties approached it about becoming a partner or investing in
Martha Stewart Living cautioned that there is no guarantee
that any transaction or partnership would happen.
No one has made an offer for the entire company, a source
familiar with the situation said, adding that founder and
controlling stockholder Martha Stewart would prefer a
partnership or investment to an outright sale.
Stewart, who turns 70 this year, will rejoin the board. She
said in an interview that her interest in the business has not
diminished. She left the door open to a number of moves.
"There are a lot of very interesting opportunities both
domestically and internationally for this company," she said.
"What we are going to focus on is all those opportunities --
and really focus on them."
Analysts said the company's options could range from
partnerships with other media companies, such as Time Warner
Inc (TWX.N) or John Malone's Liberty Media Corp LINTA.O, to
transactions that would take the company private, following the
lead of publishers such as Playboy Enterprises.
"They are too small to be big, and too big to be small,"
said Phoenix Partners Group analyst Robert Routh. "As a
standalone company, do they have the leverage to get all of the
cost efficiencies and revenue opportunities they should? As
part of a larger organization, that would be a piece of cake."
Stewart, who served a prison sentence after being convicted
in 2004 of lying to investigators about a stock sale, has been
unable to serve on the board or work as a top executive under
the terms of a settlement securities regulators. Those
restrictions end in August, and she is expected to rejoin the
board in the third quarter.
"I would imagine if they are exploring strategic options,
including a sale, she would like to be on the board and part of
that decisionmaking process," said Noble Financial analyst
Running the company day to day will be left to Lisa Gersh,
a co-founder of Oxygen Media, who has been hired as the
company's chief operating officer. She is expected to assume
the role of chief executive within 12 to 20 months, the company
said on Wednesday.
Once a company whose stock traded around $30 a share,
Martha Stewart Living has struggled to draw advertising
dollars, and has turned over top management and laid off staff
over the last several years.
But analysts say the company has made strides. Advertising
has improved dramatically, which should help publishing.
It also has a deal with Crown Media's Hallmark Channel to
develop programs and recoup production costs more quickly than
in previous agreements. It also struck merchandising deals with
partners including Home Depot (HD.N), PetSmart PETM.O and
"I've been saying for some time that once the company had
some of its ducks in a row, that they they would explore
options," said Kupinski.
Phoenix's Routh said he, too, was unsurprised by Martha
Stewart Living's decision to hire bankers.
"If you're management, and you see this growth over the
next two to three years, and the public markets don't see it,
wouldn't you consider taking the company private or doing
something strategic?" he said.
Shares of Martha Stewart Living were up 87 cents at $4.64
after reaching $5.10 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Additional reporting by Megan Davies. Editing by Maureen
Bavdek, Dave Zimmerman and Robert MacMillan)