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CBS up on buyout talk

CBS Inc. led rival webs on a wild Wall Street ride Monday after one analyst recommended it and a published report quoted TCI Communications chief John Malone as predicting Walt Disney Co. would buy the Eye web within a year.

CBS shares surged $ 9.75 to close at $ 306 per, while Capital Cities/ABC stock dropped $ 4.50 to $ 655 per and NBC parent General Electric slipped a mere 13 cents to $ 107.75.

CBS took off right after the opening bell on news that Brown Bros. Harriman analyst Jay Nelson had raised the issue to “buy” from “neutral” based on an improving advertising climate and better overall future prospects.

“The economic cycle is solid and the networks are ‘soft cyclicals’ so they are participating,” Nelson said, citing last quarter’s fairly strong performance.

While traders attributed the bulk of CBS’ trading gains to Nelson’s remarks, they said comments by John Malone in the current issue of the New Yorker also generated some interest.

Media watcher Ken Auletta wrote in the New Yorker that Malone considers the webs “attractive properties” and is advising TBS topper Ted Turner, “who would like to buy ABC or NBC.”

Malone also told Auletta that CBS “will probably merge with Disney within 12 months.”

Reviving Disney rumors

Disney’s rumored interest in buying a web is a popular market topic, and many traders and analysts believed Malone was probably stating his own opinion without inside knowledge of a deal. When this rumor is taken seriously, not only do CBS shares go up, but Disney shares tend to drop on concern that such a big expenditure would dent growth. Yet Disney shares finished Monday’s session up 38 cents at $ 47.50.

Still, the Malone comments were taken as truth in some quarters. Trading in Capital Cities/ABC opened late because of an “order imbalance”– in this case, sellers outweighed buyers — that indicated the stock as low as $ 642-$ 645 per share compared with Friday’s closing $ 659.50.

“The rumor mill has long had Capital Cities/ABC as the likely takeover target ,” said Prudential Securities analyst Melissa Cook. “If it turns out that Disney is the only buyer, then whoever does not get bought has a problem.”

Cook considers both networks an attractive target to a programmer seeking broad distribution but considers CBS a more likely choice since it is less diversified and, she thinks, “(CBS chairman Laurence) Tisch was a more motivated seller.”

One trader, however, said Malone might have made his CBS forecast in order to keep speculation away from the other webs and possibly help Turner.

In other stock news, Salomon Bros. initiated Time Warner Inc. with a “buy” rating, citing the company’s “superb entertainment assets” and distribution system.

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