Thomson Reuters to sell 55% of its F&R business to Blackstone

Thomson Reuters (TSX/NYSE: TRI)  has signed a definitive agreement to enter into a strategic partnership with Blackstone. As part of the transaction, Thomson Reuters will sell a 55% majority stake in its F&R business to private equity funds managed by Blackstone. The transaction values the F&R business at approximately $20 billion. Thomson Reuters will receive approximately $17 billion in gross proceeds at closing (subject to purchase price adjustments) funded by $14 billion of debt and preferred equity to be incurred by the partnership and a $3 billion cash equity contribution by Blackstone. Thomson Reuters will retain a 45% interest in the F&R business. Thomson Reuters will also maintain full ownership of its Legal, Tax & Accounting and the Reuters News businesses. Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and GIC will invest alongside Blackstone for the transaction.

The F&R business provides a broad range of offerings to financial market professionals. Its global content sets include fundamentals, estimates and primary and secondary research. F&R also provides customers with tools, platforms, venues and services to enable fast, intelligent decision-making. The businesses that will comprise the new F&R partnership had 2017 revenues of approximately $6 billion.

“This deal strengthens F&R and should accelerate its growth and benefit its customers across the sell-side, buy-side and trading venues. Blackstone’s strong relationships in the financial services industry and long and successful history of corporate partnerships will help F&R provide new and innovative products and services, drive further efficiencies and navigate ongoing industry consolidation,” said Jim Smith, president and chief executive officer of Thomson Reuters.

“I am proud of the F&R organization and all of the hard work that has gone into turning around the business over the last six years. Today’s announcement reflects the strength of the F&R business and its future potential. We believe F&R will be even stronger with Blackstone as a partner. The transaction will provide immediate value to Thomson Reuters shareholders and our ownership interest in F&R will enable Thomson Reuters to participate in the future upside of the business.”

Martin Brand, a Senior Managing Director at Blackstone, said: “We are excited to partner with Thomson Reuters – one of the most trusted companies in financial technology. The F&R division has tremendous assets, including a world-leading data business, essential risk and compliance solutions, OTC trading venues, wealth management software, and a strong desktop business. The partnership with Blackstone provides an opportunity to increase efficiency and accelerate revenue growth through innovation and focus on creating uniquely compelling products for F&R’s customers.”

Joe Baratta, Blackstone’s Global Head of Private Equity, said: “We are delighted to partner with Thomson Reuters in continuing to grow the F&R business. This is a landmark transaction for Blackstone and our investment partners.”

The new partnership will be managed by a 10 person board composed of five representatives from Blackstone and four from Thomson Reuters. The President and CEO of the new partnership will serve as a non-voting member of the board following the closing of the transaction.

At the closing of the proposed transaction, F&R and Reuters News will sign a 30-year agreement for Reuters to supply news and editorial content to the new partnership. Under the agreement, F&R will pay Reuters a minimum of $325 million annually. For the duration of the news contract, Thomson Reuters will grant F&R a license to permit F&R to brand its information feeds and products/services with the “Reuters” mark, subject to applicable limitations and restrictions set forth in a trademark license agreement.

“Reuters News will maintain complete editorial freedom, and continue to operate under the Trust Principles. There has never been a more important time for providing trusted news, and that is what Reuters will continue to deliver on with accuracy and integrity,” added Smith.

Thomson Reuters plans to use the estimated $17 billion of gross proceeds from the transaction as follows:

  • Pay down sufficient outstanding debt to allow the company to remain below its target net debt-to-EBITDA leverage ratio of 2.5x (debt repayment estimated at approximately $3 billion).
  • Pay cash taxes, transaction expenses and other costs required to establish F&R as a standalone company and minimize the resulting stranded costs at Thomson Reuters (estimated at $1.5 – $2.5 billion).
  • Pursue organic and inorganic opportunities in the key growth segments of the company’s Legal and Tax & Accounting businesses (estimated at $1 – $3 billion).
  • Use the balance (estimated at $9 – $11 billion) to repurchase shares via a substantial issuer bid/tender offer made to all common shareholders following the closing of the transaction.
    • The company expects its principal shareholder, Woodbridge, will participate in the issuer bid/tender offer. Woodbridge intends to maintain its ownership in the 50% to 60% range.

After closing of the transaction, Thomson Reuters will focus its efforts on expanding its market segment positions and accelerating growth in its Legal, Tax & Accounting and Regulatory businesses. Thomson Reuters will be well capitalized with significant capacity for organic and inorganic growth, with expected pro forma net debt-to-EBITDA of approximately 2.1 times (excluding the $1 – $3 billion of proceeds retained for reinvestment). Thomson Reuters is also expected to benefit from its 45% retained interest in F&R over time.

The sale is subject to specified regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions, including the expiration or termination of applicable waiting periods under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. The sale of a majority stake in F&R to Blackstone is not subject to any financing condition. Blackstone has obtained debt and equity commitments for the transaction. Thomson Reuters and the Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company have agreed to make consequential modifications to the Trust Principles arrangements on closing to reflect the transaction. Thomson Reuters expects the transaction to close in the second half of 2018.

Guggenheim Securities, LLC (lead), TD Securities Inc., and Centerview Partners LLC are serving as advisors to Thomson Reuters. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is serving as legal counsel to Thomson Reuters for the transaction, with Torys LLP serving as Canadian legal counsel. Norton Rose Fulbright is serving as legal counsel to the Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company. Canson Capital Partners, BofA Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan are acting as financial advisors to Blackstone. Debt financing related to the transaction is being provided by J.P. Morgan, BofA Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is acting as legal counsel to Blackstone.