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The New York Times has sold its last shares in Fenway Sports Group, the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team and Liverpool Football Club, raising $63m from undisclosed buyers.
The sale will generate a pre-tax gain of about $38m in the second quarter, bringing in cash at a time when the group’s About.com consumer information site is losing sales, dividend payments have been suspended and payments into one of its pension plans have been frozen.
The publisher of the New York Times and Boston Globe newspapers bought more than 17 per cent of Fenway for $75m in 2002 and has raised $225m, or three times what it paid, from selling it in stages.
The latest disposal, to “multiple buyers” understood to be existing minority owners in Fenway, follows the $140m sale in January of the group’s regional newspaper division.
Shares in the New York Times, which dipped below $6 earlier this month, closed down 1.2 per cent at $6.43, valuing its equity at $950m.
The news comes after the group retained Spencer Stuart to find a replacement to Janet Robinson, who left as chief executive with a $24m package five months ago.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman and acting chief executive, said last month that the family-controlled group would take “whatever time necessary” to find a successor with strong digital skills, an understanding of brands’ power and the ability to launch “products that are critical to our future”.
Barclays Capital analysts on Friday raised their estimates for full-year earnings per share, from 61 cents to 69 cents, but said the lack of a full-time chief was “a material overhang” on the group’s shares.
The company’s disposals of non-core assets have fuelled speculation about the future of About.com and the Boston Globe. One analyst, who would not be named, said: “My view is that over time, they will probably get rid of [About.com]. It doesn’t tie into the rest of the company.”
About.com last month reported a 21.3 per cent fall in first-quarter revenues, as it suffered from increased competition, a weak economy and the effect of changes to Google’s search algorithms. The company has expressed confidence that a new management team can improve content, traffic and advertising revenues.
Analysts at Moody’s, the credit rating agency, have highlighted underfunded pension schemes as consuming cash at the New York Times and other US newspaper companies.