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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A slew of digital media acquisitions over the past few weeks shows how unreliable private valuations can be.

Why it matters: The only way for anyone to really know how much any private company is worth is if it sells in an all-cash deal. When privately-held companies sell via all-stock transactions or via a mix of cash and stock, dealmakers can essentially make up the value of the assets they are looking to purchase.

Expand chart
Data: Axios Research via media and public reports; Table: Axios Visuals

Driving the news: Group Nine Media said Monday that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire POPSUGAR Inc., a lifestyle digital media company that caters to millennial women, in an all-stock transaction.

  • The acquisition values POPSUGAR at $300 million and the combined company at $1 billion, per the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Journal had previously reported that Group Nine's latest valuation before the acquisition was north of $600 million.
  • Even if we assume that these figures are correct, we don't know what lies behind them.

The big picture: The Group Nine/POPSUGAR deal was the third major media deal that happened in the last month, signaling that consolidation is afoot.

Between the lines: Digital media execs and investors have privately told Axios that the combined valuation of Vice Media and Refinery29 should be much lower than the total $4 billion figure that has been reported.

  • Vice investor Disney has already written written down its entire $400 million investment in the company, signaling that it doesn't expect to see any return for its money.

Be smart: Private company valuations are set by a small number of investors, not markets. There's no guarantee an acquirer will agree with those figures, and "headline" valuations might mask all sort of structural mechanisms that protect investors at the expense of stock-holding employees.

Bottom line: Media companies are merging in an effort to combine resources and reach bigger audiences in a bid to become profitable, or at least get a better shot at competing with the likes of Google and Facebook for ad revenue. But until companies go public or sell for a public cash figure, there's no way of knowing just how much their big bets are really worth.

Worth a read: Via CNBC's Alex Sherman: "Vice’s $400 million deal for Refinery29 illustrates the pointlessness of private valuations."

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.

White House says it expects federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said in new guidance Friday that it expects millions of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus no later than Dec. 8.

Why it matters: Companies with federal contractors have been waiting for formal guidance from the White House before requiring those employees to get vaccinated, according to Reuters.