Televisa Closer to Univision Move?

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Grupo Televisa S.A. board member Carlos Slim Domit quietly increased his personal holdings in Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc., raising speculation that the Mexican broadcast giant may be trying to beef up its efforts to acquire Univision.

Grupo Televisa already owns about 11% of Univision and supplies most of its programming.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday, Univision revealed that Slim -- chairman of Mexican telephone giant Teléfonos de México S.A. de C.V. and industrial and retail conglomerate Groupo Carso -- purchased 8.5 million shares of Univision on the open market March 9-20 for an average price of about $33.83 per share.

The purchase -- made through Inmobiliaria Carso S.A., a Slim-family real estate company in which Carlos Slim owns a 14.6% stake -- gave the company a 2.8% equity interest in Univision.

According to the filing, Grupo Televisa claimed no beneficial ownership to the Slim shares, nor is it part of a group with Slim or Inmobiliaria Carso.

Univision said in February that it was exploring strategic options, including a sale of the company, and it hired UBS Investment Bank as its financial adviser. That sent the stock into overdrive -- it has gained 13%, or $3.95 per share, since the announcement -- and led to analysts speculating that media giants Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., CBS Corp. and News Corp. could be potential suitors. Several private-equity firms are also said to be interested in making bids.

Grupo Televisa will also likely be involved in a deal, but due to Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibit foreign companies from owning more than 25% of a U.S. broadcaster (Univision is based in Los Angeles), it will need a domestic partner.

While several U.S. media companies have expressed a desire to expand into the Spanish-language market, Univision’s price may prove to be too hefty. Several analysts have estimated that the broadcasting giant will sell for $12 billion-$13 billion, or $40 per share.

In a research report Thursday, Miller Tabak & Co. LLC media analyst David Joyce said the timing of Slim’s investment was “curious.”

Joyce added that the revelation in the filing that Grupo Televisa was also seeking to name a “Class T” director to Univision’s board -- a seat that was vacated by Grupo Televisa after it sued Univision last year, claiming that Univision breached its programming agreement and cheated Televisa out of royalties -- “points further to a desire by Televisa to gain more control of [Univision] going forward in its potential sale transaction.”

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