Private equity makes play for Topps Co.

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A couple of private-equity firms, including one founded by Michael Eisner, said Tuesday that they have agreed to purchase Topps Co., the 69-year-old entity best known for its trading cards.

Tornante Co., founded two years ago by Eisner, and Madison Dearborn Partners have agreed to pay $385.4 million for Topps, or $9.75 per share, a price immediately declared insufficient by a Topps board member who vowed to stop the transaction.

The proposed buyout, which the companies said should close in the third quarter, "is not in the best interests of the company's shareholders and does not maximize shareholder value," board member Arnaud Ajdler complained in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Topps said it will entertain better offers, if any are forthcoming, during the next 40 days.

The price represents a 9.4% premium to where Topps shares closed Monday, though investors bid the stock up past the buyout price Tuesday to $9.81.

Topps reported revenue of $298.8 million in fiscal 2006, roughly half from its entertainment division that is made up of trading cards related to sports and licensed properties like "The Lord of the Rings." The other half came from such confections as Bazooka bubble gum and Ring Pops.

The company said two years ago that it was seeking a buyer, though at the time it said that only its confections business was for sale.

The company, while profitable, hasn't been performing up to the standard it set seven years ago at the height of the Pokemon craze, when those cards helped the company top $439 million in annual revenue.
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