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Proposed deal could represent new wave of consolidation in pay-TV biz

Charter Communications is prepping an offer for Time Warner Cable as early as next week, with a bid of less than $135 per share in cash and stock, according to reports Friday.

The proposal was first reported Friday by Bloomberg, which initially cited an anonymous source saying the offer would be less than $140 per share. Both the New York Times and Reuters later reported the bid would be under $135 per share. The deal, if consummated, could herald a new wave of consolidation in the pay-TV business.

Time Warner Cable stock closed at $131.06 per share Thursday. After climbing as high as $135.99, the operator’s shares dropped back to $131.75 per share in early afternoon trading. Charter shares rose 2.2% in the ayem before declining to $132.21 per share (up only 0.2% from previous close).

Charter’s offer would be a “bear hug” letter, which is a formal acquisition offer for a price above a company’s current valuation. The strategy of leaking proposed deal terms to the media is a way M&A execs sometimes try to gain leverage in negotiations. Bloomberg previously reported that TW Cable would be receptive to a bid of $150-$160 per share (again citing an anonymous source).

Reps for Charter and Time Warner Cable declined to comment.

The report comes after Charter CEO Tom Rutledge earlier this week at the UBS Media & Communications Conference said the cable operator “doesn’t need to do any deals to make itself a highly valuable business.” He was responding to widespread reports that the company — in conjunction with John Malone’s Liberty Media, which owns a 27% stake in Charter — has been actively seeking a deal to merge with the larger operator.

SEE ALSO: John Malone: Time Warner Cable Should Be Rolling Up Cable Ops

Charter has met with Bank of America, Barclays and Deutsche Bank to line up financing for a Time Warner Cable bid, and might also seek cash for the transaction from “sovereign wealth funds and wealthy individuals,” The Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Malone, for his part, has been public in expressing his belief that cable operators must merge to gain economies of scale. Charter could become “a horizontal acquisition machine” by buying up other MSOs, Malone said at Liberty Media’s annual investor day in June. Charter will be “looking at other assets in the U.S. cable business that lack scale to have synergy.”

Comcast also has been reportedly conducting due diligence on a bid for Time Warner Cable, and enlisted JP Morgan to explore a potential acquisition plan, a source familiar with operator said, confirming an earlier Reuters report. However, such a union might be rejected by regulators, and the source said Comcast has no plans to launch a play for TW Cable at this point. Cox Communications also is said to have been interested in picking up TW Cable’s assets.

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