It was announced this week that AT&T has agreed to sell a majority stake in its Yellow Pages business to Cerberus Capital Management. The price was reported to be $950 million dollars, for a declining business that AT&T was happy to jettison and get on to more important areas of their business.
The deal was for primarily cash with AT&T receiving 750 million in cash, with a 200 million note on the backend. AT&T will maintain a 47% stake in the business, but Cerberus will handle all day-to-day operations. Cerberus has pulled a number of rabbits out of their hat in the past, but this one looks to be particularly difficult.
During its heyday through the 1990s the Yellow Pages franchise, which included AT&T and a number of other telephone companies, and even a number of independent publishing companies, had a wildly profitable business. Recently the business, as a print operation, has become a boat anchor. Revenue was down 30% in just the last two years. The goal for Cerebus is to help turn the business into a digital operation that will compete with a number of newer players including Google and Yelp.
It has been a number of years since my family has kept or used a printed Yellow Pages directory at home. Like so many our tendency today is to simply Google what we are looking for hit the return and we have our answers. If we are looking for additional information, we’ll take the time to go to yelp for additional feedback from users where have actually used the service were looking for. In Orange County, CA where I live, Yelp is helpful but certainly not the powerhouse that I found when I was working in the San Francisco Bay Area. There looking through Yelp was like reading a novel, and I discovered a number of incredible writers who took the time to elaborate on their personal experiences at the various restaurants and shops they wrote about.
AT&T will use the time and the money to help grow their electronic portion of the communications field. With their growing competition this would seem to have been a good move. Cerberus will attempt to do something I that seems impossible, but they have done the impossible before, and I’m confident they have a plan to do it again. As a private equity firm they don’t have to meet the needs of the market and shareholders and that is critical for them to have the time and hard efforts to pull this off.
Good luck to both AT&T and Cerebus, we won’t hold our breath, but we wish you well. I wonder if Cerberus would also like to buy a few good newspapers, I know of a number that can be had for well under $950 million. In fact they might be able to purchase several former large newspaper-publishing groups for the same figure. There is one that is headquartered in Orange County (Freedom) that I hear can be had for well less than a billion.