Tribune Co. exits bankruptcy, assets likely to be sold

US media conglomerate Tribune Co. exited bankruptcy Monday after four years of court supervision, with the future of assets such as The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times uncertain.

The Chicago-based company said it had emerged from bankruptcy protection "with a portfolio of profitable assets, strong liquidity, and a new board of directors."

The reorganization allowed a group of hedge funds and banks based in Los Angeles and New York to take over the media company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008 after a leveraged buyout left it saddled in debt.

An article in the company's flagship Chicago Tribune said virtually all the media assets are expected to eventually be sold.

Some reports have said Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is interested in purchasing the Chicago newspaper and possibly the Los Angeles Times.

The Tribune article said billionaire Warren Buffett may also be seeking to add to his newspaper properties.

According to the same article, a 2012 analysis by financial adviser Lazard valued the Tribune's broadcasting assets at $2.85 billion.

Other strategic assets, including the jobs website CareerBuilder and cable channel Food Network, were found to be worth $2.26 billion.

The company owns 23 television stations and a number of leading daily newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel along with the dailies in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor who is now a media consultant, said the Tribune Co. is likely to "divest some or all publishing properties, either individually or as a group."

He added: "My intuition is that the eventual owners of the company will test the... market for the papers and opportunistically sell anything that fetches a reasonable price.

"If this fails, they will operate lean and mean in hopes of improving results and selling the papers at a more favorable time in the business cycle."

Eddy Hartenstein, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and current chief executive of the company, will remain in the role until the board convenes in the next few weeks.

The Los Angeles Times and others have reported that Peter Liguori, a former executive at News Corp. and Discovery Communications, will become the new chief executive.

The board also includes Ross Levinsohn, the former interim CEO at Yahoo! and Peter Murphy, a former Walt Disney Co. executive.

Reports in the Chicago Tribune said the new owners are focused on cable channel WGN, and will be looking to boost its value before an eventual sale.

On emergence, the company will receive a new $1.1 billion loan and a new $300 million credit facility for operations.

It will issue to former creditors approximately 100 million shares of new stock.

Sam Zell, a Chicago real estate titan, led an $8 billion leveraged buyout of the Tribune Co. in 2007 and the company declared bankruptcy the next year, with $13 billion in debt.

It sold the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise and its iconic stadium, Wrigley Field, in 2009.

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