), spun off in 1997 by media giant Hearst, has been on the ropes since January, when it traded at 29. Now at 23, guess who is buying stock? Hearst itself. Since April, Hearst has bought -- through its Hearst Broadcasting unit -- 1 million shares of Hearst-Argyle in the open market, bringing its total stake of Class A shares to 35%. Hearst-Argyle owns 25 TV stations and manages three others, reaching 18% of U.S. households. The company also manages two radio stations. "It's one of the largest non-network-owned groups," notes Amy Glynn of Standard & Poor's (MHP
). Hearst Broadcasting already owns 100% of Hearst-Argyle's Class B shares, whose holders pick most of the board. These buys have led some hedge funds to buy, too, in the belief Hearst will take Hearst-Argyle private. They note that Cox Broadcasting recently said it would go private at a 16% premium to its stock price. Meanwhile, Hearst-Argyle has also repurchased 180,000 shares this year. Sean Butson of Legg Mason (LM
), who rates the stock a buy with a 12-month target of 35, sees earnings of $1.30 in 2004, up from 2003's $1. Both companies declined comment.Note: Unless otherwise noted, neither the sources cited in Inside Wall Street nor their firms hold positions in the stocks under discussion. Similarly, they have no investment banking or other financial relationships with them. See Gene on Fridays at 1:20 p.m. EST on CNNfn's The Money Gang.