Constantin faces market squeeze-out

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COLOGNE, Germany -- Indie giant Constantin Film could be squeezed off the stock market, according to reports swirling around the German industry.

German business daily Handesblatt on Tuesday speculated that Constantin majority shareholder Highlight Communications could move to squeeze out Constantin's smaller shareholders as early as next week, ahead of Constantin's year-end shareholder conference on March 29.

Meanwhile, Constantin stock continues to outpace the market, gaining a further 3.5% to €23.8 ($31.6) in early trading Tuesday.

"Squeeze-out rumors are boosting Constantin's shares, no doubt about it, it's what everyone is talking about right now," one floor trader at the Frankfurt exchange said.

Constantin's surge hasn't stopped since the stock hit bottom at just over €9 a year ago. While squeeze-out rumors have helped, so have the numbers presented by company CEO Fred Kogel, which have repeatedly beaten expectations.

Next week, Kogel is expected to reveal record earnings and profits, with revenue forecast to top €265 million ($352 million) and pretax (EBIT) profits climbing from €11 million a year ago to €14 million ($18.6 million).

Boxoffice hits like Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" as well as a burgeoning and high-margin TV business, have been the main reasons for Constantin's recent success.

Reports of a possible squeeze-out by Swiss-based Highlight go back to January 2006, when Highlight acquired an additional 25.1% of Constantin from "Perfume" producer Bernd Eichinger. The deal put Highlight's share of Constantin at more than 91%.

Highlight and Constantin declined comment Tuesday.
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