Discussion of Wednesday’s shareholder vote was off limits for Tuesday’s quarterly Fisher Communications financial results call with Wall Street analysts. Nonetheless, CEO Colleen Brown was obviously proud of the strong performance during Q1 and she had an interesting exchange with an analyst tied to a major investor group that’s supporting most of the dissident slate in the board election.
Brown noted that Fisher’s TV stations dramatically outperformed during the quarter. Fisher’s stations grew ad revenues 7%, while the markets as a whole were down 0.5%. Excluding political, Fisher was up 10% vs. a gain of 2% for their TV markets.
As competing slates compete for board seats, with the dissidents wanting to put the entire company up for sale, one thing everyone agrees on is trying to sell Fisher Plaza or restructure the real estate holding to free up cash.
Having put the downtown Seattle building up for sale in March, Brown said “we’re a good ways into the process of marketing the building.” She said there has been “a lot of interest, healthy interest” in the property. “We’re still interested in either financing or selling the building and if that works out to be a great deal for the shareholders we’re going to pursue that,” she said, “and then we’ll be able to get on with the broadcasting business.”
One of the analysts on the call was Barry Lucas of Gabelli & Co., who works on the analysis side of the investment firm headed by Mario Gabelli. As the largest shareholder of Fisher, with 28.5% of the stock, Gabelli has stated his intention to support three of the four candidates on the dissident slate. Under Fisher’s cumulative voting rules, Gabelli will be able to use all of his votes to support those three candidates. If all four were to be elected, they and current director David Lorber would control a majority of the nine-member board.
Lucas asked Brown about how the proceeds from the sale of Fisher Plaza would be used. “First and foremost we are interested in buying down our senior notes. They have covenants that restrict us from doing pretty much anything else but buying debt down or redeploying. So we’re interested in buying our notes down. Obviously we don’t want to count our chickens before we actually have them in house and hatched, so we don’t want to get excited about finding a way to buy all those notes until we know what the valuation on the Plaza will be, but the reality is the notes are a little more expensive than they need to be and they’ve got covenants attached. If we could take those out that would be a good thing and we can assess where to go from there,” the CEO said.