There's Your Dow Jones Bidding War

Timing. Some days, mine is off. Really off.

Take yesterday, for example. Minutes after I proclaimed that only a crazy speculator would bet on a bidding war for Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ  ) , billionaire Ron Burkle stepped in the way of a proposed buyout of the publisher by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (NYSE: NWS  ) .

Burkle has teamed with the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees (IAPE), which strongly opposes Murdoch's $60-per-share bid, to explore alternative offers. No commitments have been made, however.

Nor is there a deal between Murdoch and Dow Jones' controlling shareholders, the Bancroft family. Once intractable, they met with Murdoch yesterday to discuss a possible sale. No one is saying what came of that meeting other than your classic boilerplate. "Constructive" was the most widely quoted description, I believe. (Yawn.)

Burkle could spice things up. History says he wants a media property to add to a bulging portfolio that includes a multimillion-dollar stake in natural grocer Wild Oats (Nasdaq: OATS  ) .

In April, he was involved in a tug-of-war for Tribune (NYSE: TRB  ) , which he lost to real estate mogul Sam Zell. Before that, he failed in a bid for Knight Ridder when McClatchy (NYSE: MNI  ) agreed to spend $4.5 billion for that once-mighty newspaper empire.

So far, Burkle has acted prudently in refusing to overpay for dwindling media assets. Good for him. But Dow Jones isn't dwindling; it's growing and earning decent margins as a result.

What's more, a newspaperman no longer runs the company behind the Wall Street Journal. The new guy at the top is all business and was trained in finance. No wonder Burkle is interested. I would be, too, for the right price.

But $60 a share, or 41 times this year's projected earnings, isn't the right price. Burkle, a very smart investor, knows that. Which means if there's a bidding war to be had here, it won't be over whether Dow Jones is a value. It'll be over whether the Journal is about to fall into the wrong hands.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, who is ranked 3,458 out of more than 29,700 rated investors in CAPS, still reads his hometown newspaper every day. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Tim's portfolio holdings can be found at his Fool profile. His thoughts on Foolishness and investing may be found in his blog. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy longs for a lazy Sunday of coffee, bagels, and the weekend edition of its local paper.


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