Shares of Time Inc. were soaring as much as 20 percent ahead of the closing bell on Monday after the New York Post reported that the parent of such magazines as People, Sports Illustrated and Time had turned down an acquisition offer from Edgar Bronfman Jr., Leonard Blavatnik and Ynon Kreiz.
The billionaire investors reportedly offered $18 a share for Time, about a 30 percent premium to where the stock traded on Friday. On Monday, shares were up $2.70 to $16.30.
All three of the men looking to purchase the publishing company have deep ties to the entertainment industry: Bronfman has been vice chairman of Vivendi Universal and CEO of Warner Music Group; Blavatnik owns AI Film, which provided funding for Hacksaw Ridge, Mr. Holmes and other films, while his Access Industries owns Warner Music; and Kreiz has been CEO of Fox Kids Europe, Endemol and Maker Studios, the latter of which was acquired by Disney.
Time declined to comment, while Bronfman, Blavatnik and Kreiz were unavailable.
Time, founded in 1922, was part of Time Warner from 1990-2014. The day the parent spun Time off into a separately traded company its shares were just north of $23 apiece, but they have sunk 30 percent since then, and some observers speculate that the company might be willing to accept a bid at least equal to the spinoff value.
While the company will throw off an estimated $251 million in free cash flow next year - enough to attract a variety of private equity groups on the hunt for under-appreciated assets - its operating income has been in decline for five years, notes Eric Katz of Wells Fargo.
"We think the board rejected the offer because they see more long-term value, potentially up to $23 a share," said Katz.
It's easier, though, to make the case that a private-equity group would pay that much for Time than it is for another publicly traded entity to pay such a price, given its shrinking financials. In the first nine months of 2016, revenue dipped slightly to $2.2 billion, while adjusted operating income fell 17 percent to $232 million.
That said, Meredith Corp., the $2.4 billion publicly traded company whose magazines include Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle and Shape, was looking to acquire Time - or at least many of its assets - two years ago. Conde Nast, the company behind GQ, Glamour, Wired and Golf Digest, is also seen as a potential acquirer of Time.
Time's former parent, Time Warner, is in the process of being acquired by AT&T for $85.4 billion. On Monday, Time's market cap was at $1.6 billion.
Time, headed by CEO Rich Battista, controls about 100 brands, including Real Simple, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly and Life, the iconic pictorial magazine that folded in 2002 but still exists at Life.com.
"Any potential acquirers may have to find buyers for brands it would want to divest, or be willing to shut down brands that don't fit in their portfolio - which may be easier said than done," said Katz.