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Lions Gate is the largest of the independent film studios, behind the big six Hollywood giants. Because of its unique market position, Lions Gate is the one pure-play stock you can buy if you believe in the business of filmed entertainment. No cruise lines or theme parks, no music labels or consumer electronics. Lions Gate makes movies and TV shows, and the only distraction from the core business is a line of cable TV networks that actually tie into the mainline operations very nicely.
I suppose that's why notorious dealmaker Icahn wants to control the company; it's a neat package of integrated products, wrapped in a history of sloppy execution. This bad boy could stand squeezing out its inefficiencies under private ownership before spinning back out on the market -- or being passed on to one of the big boys, all shiny and new.
But Icahn's all-cash bid of $7 per share keeps getting rebuffed by Lions Gate's board and management, despite offer extensions and waived conditions and everything else. It's a money-losing business in a generally profitable sector, and could stand a bucket of Icahn's ice water. Last night's fourth-quarter report showed a loss of $0.18 per share on $431 million in sales.
That's a smaller loss than expected but also a lighter top line; Lions Gate attributes both of these phenomena to a smaller film slate compared to the year-ago period and shrinking DVD sales. So making fewer movies keeps the bottom line strong? Something is wrong here, and these people need some help.
In the end, this company becomes a puzzle piece in a giant growth-by-acquisition game. Sony (NYSE: SNE ) has the requisite deep pockets to buy Lions Gate and make the most of the studio's numerous franchises. If the Japanese giant doesn't get there first, I can certainly see Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) adding the broadcast-rich Lions Gate portfolio to the NBC Universal haul it's buying from General Electric. Both of these potential owners would certainly prefer to see Lions Gate whipped into shape by ruthless corporate raider Icahn before making any serious moves, though. That's the kind of financial backing that awaits at the end of Icahn's unwelcome tunnel, and Lions Gate could use some of that love.
The comments box below is waiting to hear what you think about this hostile but sensible takeover attempt, whether or not you can speak for the company.