Packer stock soars on sale talk

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SYDNEY -- Stock in the Packer family's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd. soared to record highs Monday on speculation that the company is readying a partial sale of its media assets, just four days after the Australian government ratified changes to the country's media ownership rules.

Unconfirmed news reports here say that PBL could sell as much as 50% of its media assets including the Nine Network, ACP Magazines, its stakes in pay TV operations Foxtel and Fox Sports and its shares in online ventures ninemsn and Seek, to a consortium of private equity funds including Newbridge Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for AUS$3.75 billion ($2.8 billion).

Analysts here said the sale will help bankroll PBL's expanding global gambling and casino investments.

PBL did not deny reports Monday that it will spin off its media assets, telling the Australian stock exchange: "As a matter of policy, PBL does not comment on such speculation. However, as always PBL is constantly reviewing all its businesses and options."

PBL shares hit an all-time high of AUS$20.08 ($15) on Monday on the speculation. The stock finished at a record close of AUS$19.85 ($14.88), up AUS42 cents. At press time, trade in PBL shares had been halted ahead of an announcement expected today. Executives at PBL were not available for comment.

Changes to Australia's 20-year-old media ownership rules were passed last week by the Australian Senate, scrapping foreign-ownership restrictions and loosening cross-media regulations on local media companies. The reforms now allow media operators to own two out of three media -- TV, newspapers or radio -- in any market, doing away with previous rules that allowed media owners to be "princes of print" or "queens of screen," but not both.
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