It’sofficially now a private party at the Playboy Mansion. Playboy Enterprises (NYSE: PLA) has agreed to a $207 million buyout by a group led by founder Hugh Hefner. That means Playboy will no longer be a publicly traded stock, and no longer have to air as much of its dirty laundry for the rest of the world to see.
What’s more if Hefner’s move failed the bunny brand it could have fallen into the hands of a Playboy rival, the company that owns and operates Penthouse magazine.
Here are the details: Hef originally offered up $5.50 a share for the company, but Penthouse owner FriendFinder Networks Inc. offered to acquire the company for $210 million. That prompted Playboy’s founder to go back to the drawing board – now ponying up $6.15 a share for the company, an 18% premium over current valuations that Penthouse operators (or anyone else) likely won’t outbid.
Unfortunately, the fact that Playboy remains under Hefner’s stewardship and that company leadership will remain largely unchanged could be a problem for fans of the magazine. The company in November posted a wider third-quarter loss on one-time charges, will be lucky to break even in the fourth quarter and hasn’t posted a full-year profit since 2007.
Playboy executives contend it is turning a corner after diversifying away from the “adult content” that was its bread and butter for so long. For instance, in the summer Playboy launched a safe for work website, called TheSmokingJacket.com?. There is also plenty of merchandising to connect with consumers when it comes to that famous bunny logo.
By taking the company private, Hefner & Co. can continue to diversify Playboy – and not worry about the steady drumbeat of quarterly earnings reports or answering to shareholders. As a private company, the bunny brand can restructure without as much scrutiny or public criticism.
Yet it’s hard to think that Hefner is acting as an investor here instead of the patriarch of an enterprise he built from scratch starting with the first edition in 1953. The man who literally mortgaged his furniture to print that first issue isn’t likely to see the buyout as a dollars and cents issue.
So while Playboy fans may take solace in the fact that the company has gotten a second chance with Hefner and the group he leads, Icon Acquisition Holdings, it’s not the end of the story. If Playboy can’t return to profitability soon it doesn’t matter who’s at the helm of this sinking ship.
Jeff Reeves is editor of InvestorPlace.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/J????effReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.