Cox to Buy Back 25% AutoTrader Stake From Providence Equity

Cox Enterprises Inc., the Atlanta-based media holding company, agreed to buy back a 25 percent stake in AutoTrader Group from Providence Equity Partners, restoring its full ownership of the e-commerce business.

Cox and Providence didn’t disclose the financial terms of the transaction in a statement today, though a person with knowledge of the deal said the stake was worth about $1.8 billion. That would put AutoTrader’s total value at about $7 billion. Cox will now own 98 percent of the business, with the rest held by current and former employees.

Providence, a private-equity firm, had acquired the stake in 2010 to help boost growth at the online auto-marketing business, which runs the sites and Providence also received a $100 million dividend from AutoTrader in 2012, giving the Rhode Island-based firm a threefold return on its $640 million investment, the person familiar with the matter said.

Since Providence took its stake in AutoTrader, the business has acquired related services such as Kelley Blue Book, Haystak Digital Marketing and HomeNet Automotive, helping it reach 62 percent of people who are in the market to buy a car, according to Cox. AutoTrader also sells advertising and software to more than 27,000 dealers.

Cox Enterprises owns the cable company Cox Communications Inc., as well as Cox Media Group Inc., which operates the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and TV and radio stations. As a closely held company, Cox doesn’t comment on the financial terms of transactions, said Elizabeth Olmstead, a spokeswoman. Providence Equity also declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported on the terms of the deal.

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