Graham Holdings Has Never Been More Valuable Than It Is Now

Getting out of the newspaper business was great for the rest of the business.
Graham Holdings Has Never Been More Valuable Than It Is Now
Sell these, get richer. Image via Shutterstock.

Washington Post business columnist Allan Sloan devotes his Friday ramblings to the news that shares in Graham Holdings—the company run by the family that used to own the Post—eclipsed $1,000 this week. That’s quite a gain from 2010, when what was then known as the Washington Post Company slipped below $300 per share.

Sloan’s takeaway? “You never know what’s going to happen—in the stock market or in life,” he concludes, after admitting he sold most of his Post Company stock in the late 2000s when the company was still trading in the $400 to $500 range. Like all investors, Sloan has regrets about when he bailed on certain companies, but the better jumping-off point for Post/Graham stock comparisons isn’t the 2010 doldrums—it’s August 5, 2013.

Of all the strides Graham stock has made in its climb to four-digit territory, most of them came after Jeff Bezos purchased the Post (along with Express, the Fairfax Times, the Maryland Gazette, and El Tiempo Latino). The day of the sale, Post Company shares opened at $560.14. By the end of that week, they were up to $584.97, and have stayed on a robust trajectory ever since. Shares of Graham Holdings opened today at 1,023.99, an 83 percent increase over the morning of the big sale. The stock market has performed well in general the past few years, but by comparison since the Post sale, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has only gone up by 22 percent.

Consider a few other conglomerates that have offloaded their newspaper divisions recently. A few months before Bezos became a newspaper baron, Rupert Murdoch split the old News Corporation into 21st Century Fox, a home for his movie and television properties, and a new News Corp that focuses on Murdoch’s newspaper and book publishing portfolio. The new companies, both publicly traded, are about neck-and-neck in terms of stock price. Last year, after its latest reorganization, Tribune Media Company dumped the World’s Greatest Newspaper and the rest of the Chicago firm’s publications into a new venture called Tribune Publishing Company, shares of which trade at less than one-third the price of Tribune Media, which is now built around broadcasting and real estate.

Next up is McLean-based Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, which last year announced plans to spin off USA Today and its other dailies, while holding onto its television and internet assets.

Graham Holdings is still a publisher through Slate, Foreign Policy, and The Root, but all three are primarily digital ventures with small staffs and minimal overhead costs, unlike large metropolitan newspapers, which come with large workforces, signficant real-estate footprints, and, in many instances, large pension obligations. (The Grahams, unlike their fellow former newspaper barons, are actually spared the last thign, thanks to a longstanding relationship with Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.)

Sloan may have seller’s remorse for dumping his company stock when life at the Post Company seemed most grim. Equities markets can be volatile and unpredictable. But perhaps the real takeaway from Graham Holdings’s current robustness is that the days of newspapers being components of broad holding companies are just about finished.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.