Jim Shaw says his company could be interested in buying some Canwest assets

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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CALGARY - The chief executive officer of Shaw Communication Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) confirmed Thursday that his company has been looking at buying some of Canwest's assets, although he wouldn't say what has caught his interest.
Jim Shaw told reporters after the firm's annual meeting in Calgary that he has met with the Asper family, who run Winnipeg-based Canwest Global Communications (TSXV:CGS).
Shaw declined to specify which particular Canwest assets might be of interest.
"I'd call it exploring right now. There's no deal or anything," Shaw told reporters.
There have been reports that Shaw is among the top four most likely buyers for some or all of Canwest, which is under pressure by Canada's major banks and other creditors to deal with its heavy debts and unpaid interest payments.
There are a "whole bunch" of different options that Shaw could weigh - one being potentially putting some equity into Canwest.
"Maybe there's ways we could work together to make everybody better," said Shaw.
On a conference call later Thursday with analysts, Shaw clarified that Canwest's newspaper assets - which were placed under creditor protection last week - "were not even in discussion."
That would leave Canwest's broadcast operations, which AR Communications senior vice-president Carmi Levy said would be a good fit for Shaw.
"If you look at the current battle between satellite distributors and broadcasters over who should pay for what, the truth of the matter is they are all in the same business, just different points on the supply chain," Levy said.
"It's high time they put their heads together to come up with a model that works. Certainly an acquisition like this would reflect that it makes sense to control the entire content distribution supply chain."
Another potential contender for at least some of Canwest is Toronto-based Corus Entertainment Corp. (TSX:CJR.B), which was spun off from Shaw several years ago.
The CEO of Corus, which owns specialty cable channels, radio stations and other entertainment businesses, said Wednesday his company would be interested in a select number of Canwest's specialty cable channels but not the whole company.
Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. (TSX:FFH), a Toronto-based company that invested heavily in Canwest in the past and the Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group are also reputed to be top possible bidders.
Most of Canwest is operating under court protection from its creditors. Among its assets are the National Post and other newspapers, the Global Television network and several specialty cable television channels.
Jim Shaw also said Thursday he expects his cable, satellite, Internet and phone company to have a new wireless business close to deployment around this time next year.
"We're just starting to work on it. I wouldn't expect a lot quickly, but it's in progress," Shaw said.
Unlike Toronto-based Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) and Quebecor's Videotron in Quebec, Western Canada's largest cable company has yet to add wireless phones to its service offerings - even though product bundling has been an effective marketing strategy for years.
Shaw has, however, purchased federal licences that could be used to set up a wireless service in an auction of wireless spectrum held in 2008. It also has the option of partnering with another company with a wireless network.
Shaw would not be looking for a partner simply to provide funding, the CEO said on the analyst call.
"It would be a question of whether they brought something to the table that would be of help to us, like maybe tower sharing or equipment sharing or something like that," he said.
In its first-quarter financial report issued early Thursday, Shaw said that net income slipped to $114.2 million, or 26 cents per share, for the quarter, down from $123.5 million or 29 cents per share a year earlier.
The company, meanwhile, is boosting its dividend by five per cent, or four cents, to 88 cents on class B shares starting on March 30.
Total revenue from all services rose nearly 11 per cent to $905.9 million from $817.5 million as it grew its customer base and increased service rates.
Shaw's profits in the quarter ended last Nov. 30 were affected by $82 million in costs related to debt retirement, or repayments of its outstanding debt, which was nearly double the amount logged a year earlier.

Organizations: Canwest, TSX, Shaw Communication Corus Entertainment Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. AR Communications Jim Pattison Group National Post Global Television Rogers Communications Quebecor Videotron

Geographic location: CALGARY, Western Canada, Toronto Quebec

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