What’s Up (I Mean Down) with Clear Channel?

Bain Capital investors today are wiring cash to fund the $19.5 billion buyout of Clear Channel Communications (CCU), which follows an earlier capital call notification from Bain partner THL Capital. There also are new reports that Clear Channel, Providence Equity Partners and Wachovia are nearing an amicable agreement on their legal three-way (although CCU lawyers seem to be walking those back). In other words, prospects for a final close should be looking more certain than ever.

But don’t tell that to the trading desks, who are selling CCU as if its revenue stream was dependent on leasing office space to Bear Stearns. As of last check, CCU stock was down to $32.02 per share, which is off 8.46% for the day and 21.5% below the $39.20 per share buyout price. Its actually gone even lower today, with the nadir being $30.76 per share.

So why the disconnect? I’ve got nothing definitive, but one theory being floated is that this deal is going to be killed off by the banks. This would mean that Wall Street pays the $500 million breakup fee, plus any additional damages successfully sued for by the sponsors.

Why would the banks voluntarily do that? Because (A) They expect to lose far more than $500m on the deal, and (B) They may have liquidity troubles that require such a move. Bear Stearns today, someone else tomorrow.

Under this theory, the Bain and THL Capital capital calls are done in good faith (the banks haven’t yet said they’re out), but are also done to forge a paper trail proving that it was the lenders, not the sponsors, who pulled the plug.

Again, just a theory. Maybe the whole thing will be closed in a week, and today’s buyers will make some very fast bucks. But it really does look like something else is going on.