Clear Channel's Circus Comes to Town

As one who was raised for a time in the Florida city where Ringling Bros. had its headquarters, I know a circus when I see one. The Clear Channel (NYSE: CCU  ) buyout became a full-fledged three ringer last week, with the company's management, private equity firms Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital LLC, and a group of big banks all performing simultaneously.

The banks involved -- all of which are trying their best to forget that they ever committed to funding the buyout -- are led by Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , and also include Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) , Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS  ) , Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE: RBS  ) , Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB  ) , and Wachovia (NYSE: WB  ) .

In addition to the three primary performing groups, room is being made in the show for the courts, which officially entered the fray late in the week, when a district judge ordered the banks not to refuse to fund the deal. Watch for legal types to become the ringmasters of this circus, especially if the banks are successful in getting the federal courts to weigh in.

So now it appears that the Clear Channel circus could take any one of three primary directions: It could be funded and completed as expected, a compromise could be reached altering the terms but allowing for an ultimate completion, or it could languish in the courts for goodness knows how long.

None of these possibilities would alter the reality that Clear Channel, which last week deferred its quarterly dividend at the request of Lee and Bain, is only a step above complete immersion in the proverbial soup. Its radio ad revenues are sliding steadily in the face of the nation's economic contraction -- which has hit radio especially hard -- and rating agency Moody's has said that, absent a deal, the company's credit could be lowered to a speculative grade.

Between Monday and Wednesday of last week, the company's share price fell nearly 22% from $34.45 to $26.92, as investors became convinced that a deal was becoming unlikely. And while it recovered to $29.20 by week's end, that's still precisely $10.00 below the agreed-upon buyout price.

My concern is that Fools, sensing an opportunity to bet on the deal being completed, will try to make a fast 34% by buying a slug of Clear Channel shares at current levels. But that would be gambling, not investing, and it's not a recommended use for your hard-earned shekels.

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