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O'Reilly ponders APN sale as stock hovers near record low

Monday 3rd November 2008

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Irish billionaire Tony O'Reilly is contemplating selling his company's 39% stake in APN News & Media at a time when the Australian media group's shares are trading near a record low.

Independent News & Media has received a number of approaches to buy its stake in APN, owner of The New Zealand Herald, and is now considering a sale, the Irish company said in a statement on October 31. The sale could more than half Independent News's net debt to less than 600 million euros.

Shares of Independent News soared 28% on Friday, when it first announced the development, having slumped 73% this year. APN's stock has charted a 12-month decline of 55% and traded on Friday at A$2.41 on the ASX, valuing O'Reilly's stake at A$461 million.

"It is now in the best interest of INM shareholders to consider its strategic options," the company said in a statement. "APN's current share price doesn't reflect the inherent value of the underlying assets" and the company's position in the Australia and New Zealand media market, it said.

The prospects of a sale during a global stock rout sparked criticism from other Independent News shareholders. Businessman Denis O'Brien, who holds about 26% of the company, said it should instead consider selling its biggest prize, the UK's Independent newspaper.

"I find it hard to understand why they are considering the sale of one of the group's best performing assets in a falling market," O'Brien was quoted as saying.

O'Reilly failed in a previous takeover attempt of APN about two years ago, when his offer of A$3.8 billion was rejected by other shareholders.

By Jonathan Underhill

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