NYT Shares Fall to 10-year Low After Morgan Stanley Cashes Out

The bad news keeps on coming for the New York Times. When will company chairman Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger announce he's a failure and his ideas should be reversed? Oh wait, I forgot, only Republican presidents are supposed to do that.

Sulzberger sure hasn't been doing well, though. Here's the latest:

Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest shareholder in New York Times Co., sold its entire 7.3 percent stake today, according to a person briefed on the transaction, sending the stock to its lowest in more than 10 years.

The person declined to be identified because Morgan Stanley hasn't made the sale public yet. Traders with knowledge of the transaction said Merrill Lynch & Co. brokered a $183 million block trade of 10 million New York Times shares this morning.

Hassan Elmasry, managing director of Morgan Stanley Investment Management, unsuccessfully challenged the Sulzberger family's control of New York Times Co. through super-voting stock that gives them a board majority. Shareholders owning 42 percent of the company, parent of the namesake newspaper and Boston Globe, withheld support for directors at the publisher's April annual meeting.

"This guy has been speaking for a lot of people who are too discreet to speak up and challenge management,'' said Porter Bibb, a managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners LLC in New York and a former New York Times Co. executive.

New York Times shares slid 43 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $18.48 at 4:04 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the lowest since January 1997. The stock has declined 24 percent this year. [...]

Chief Executive Officer Janet Robinson said in December that the Sulzberger family has no intention of eliminating the dual-class stock structure, and that the board is comfortable with Sulzberger holding the title of chairman and publisher.

Shareholders have also criticized the company for spending $410 million to acquire the About.com Web site in March 2005 and $500 million on a new headquarters. In response, the company said its Manhattan skyscraper is now worth more than $1 billion, and About.com's sales rose 28 percent in the second quarter to $23.5 million.

If Elmasry has sold the stock, "it's almost a dead certainty there would be a bailout of other institutional holders,'' Bibb said in an interview. "If that happens and there is a sharp drop in the share price, the Sulzbergers have to sit down and decide whether now is not a good time to take the company private.''

Hat tip: kch50428.

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