09:22 pm
April 29, 2017

Bad Advice on Tronc?

Dear Mr. Berko: I trusted you. In July of last year, you recommended in an email to me that I invest in Tronc at $15.75 because it was going to be bought out by Gannett. I believed you and bought 550 shares. I trusted you, and now I have lost over $700, and it’s your fault. How could you do this to me? You and the rest of Wall Street and its lawyers, its MBAs, its accountants and its fancy salespeople are all rich crooks. You’re hired to put deals together with the support of newspapers, the financial media and the big banks. Then after they sell it to the public, it crashes, and people like me get (expletive) on. You are a (expletive) fraud. I’m writing a letter to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority about you and other crooks who control Wall Street. — LM, Chicago

Dear LM: You sound as tense as an E string, but because you live in Chicago, I understand how you feel. However, you need to let go of your guilty feelings and be in touch with your inner sociopath. Afterward, I recommend that you take a course in remedial reading, because I never recommended Tronc (TRNC-$14.25). Several other readers asked about TRNC last October, and my answer was that Gannett (GCI-$8.75), though then trading at the same price as Tronc, was trying to add Tronc’s newspapers to its portfolio of 92 daily publications and might pay as much as $20 a share, but I said it was “a gross speculation.” Now, if you can show me an email in which I recommended the purchase, I’ll pay your loss and publicly apologize. I’ve made plenty of bad calls in the past 45-plus years, and I don’t want to get blamed for the bad ones I didn’t make. But first things first.

If it would make you feel better, please write the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority with my blessing. FINRA is the internal affairs division of the brokerage industry. It’s an oddball collection of emotionally constipated clowns who have failed to qualify for jobs in private industry. Like many government bureaucrats, FINRA’s punchinellos, who mirror the stupids at the Environmental Protection Agency, become predatory and revel in the negativity they create when inspecting branch offices around the country. An old-time stockbroker I know always said, “It’s a good policy to flash a few $50 and $100 bills on your desk when a FINRA weenie visits your office.”

Tronc (rhymes with schmonc), formerly known as Tribune Publishing Co., owns 11 daily newspapers, 160 weekly or community papers and has a monthly audience of 60 million readers. TRNC owns 122 online digital platforms and also has a local, regional and national suite of digital marketing services. Its largest papers are the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Sun Sentinel. Still, TRNC is having trouble turning a profit. 2016 revenues of $1.61 billion were down from the year before. This year, revenues should decline again, but there’s a 71 percent chance that management will post a 2017 profit of 22 cents a share. And it’s also possible that management will turn TRNC into a lean, mean profit machine. If it does, then TRNC could be an excellent speculation, but certainly not an investment.

And wonder of wonders, in December, Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro bought 2.5 million shares of TRNC at $15, pennies more than you paid for the stock. And that purchase was after management told Gannett that TRNC has no interest in pursuing a merger of any kind. But something’s brewing. Ferro didn’t invest $37.5 million because he’s a nice guy. The company is in fair financial shape. Its market cap is $480 million. Total debt is $375 million. There are 36 million shares outstanding. The book value is $2.50. There’s no possibility of a dividend, but I suspect that Ferro is looking for a significant double-digit return on his multimillion-dollar speculation.

Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at mjberko@yahoo.com. To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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