* Delays annual shareholder meeting until June 9
* Retains Moelis & Co as adviser
* Top shareholder Gabelli says he still prefers leveraged restructuring
* Shares up 20 pct (Adds Mario Gabelli and Fisher spokesperson’s comments, updates share movement)
By Sruthi Ramakrishnan
Jan 10 (Reuters) - TV station operator Fisher Communications Inc, under pressure from billionaire investor Mario Gabelli, said it is exploring strategic alternatives, including a sale.
Fisher shares jumped as much as 20 percent to $34.25, valuing the company at $304 million.
Gabelli, the largest shareholder in the company with a 28.63 percent stake, said however that he still preferred a leveraged restructuring to an outright sale.
A leveraged restructuring would allow shareholders to cash in their shares while retaining some equity in the company with a small investment. It would also give more control to fewer stockholders.
Gabelli, whose funds handle more than $30 billion in assets, has been pushing Fisher for a year to consider a leveraged restructuring with funds borrowed from shareholders.
“I’d have done a leveraged restructuring because that is the culture of 1980s. That is what Multimedia (Inc) did and that was a very good way to make money for the shareholders,” Gabelli told Reuters.
Gabelli suggested in a letter to Fisher in April last year that they implement a leveraged restructuring similar to the one executed by Multimedia Inc Chief Executive Wilson Wearn in 1985. (link.reuters.com/myn25t)
Wearn oversaw a complex deal that allowed shareholders to cash in their shares and retain some equity in Multimedia.
Gabelli suggested the creation of a new company that could buy Fisher for $40 per share by issuing bonds to shareholders, and then distribute $36 in cash and one share of the new company to each Fisher shareholder.
A Fisher spokesperson told Reuters that the company would look at “the full range of possibilities to enhance shareholder value” but declined to give further details.
Gabelli said it looked like Fisher would go for an outright sale since it had hired Moelis & Co, an investment bank and advisory firm involved in recent deals in the broadcast sector.
Moelis advised Newport Broadcasting Group on its $1 billion deal to sell 22 stations in July to Nexstar Broadcasting Group , Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc and Cox Media Group.
Gabelli, 70, is known for his investments in media companies and holds stakes in Cablevision Systems Corp and Directv , said last year would have been a better time to sell Fisher.
A robust advertising market, growing importance of retransmission fees and improved access for funding had driven TV station deals last year.
Gabelli said Fisher’s exposure to the Portland and Seattle markets makes it an attractive target for potential buyers.
Seattle-based Fisher Communications operates 13 full-power television stations and 7 low-power ones in cities such as Seattle, Portland and Boise. It runs CBS and ABC affiliates such as KPIC TV, KCBY TV and KATU TV.
Fisher, which has a market value of about $252.8 million, said on Thursday it had not made a decision to “pursue any specific strategic transaction” and had not set a timetable for the review process.
The company will delay its annual shareholder meeting until June 9 due to the strategic review. (Editing by Supriya Kurane and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)