Chargeurs split fuels media rumours

MATHEW HORSMAN

Media Editor

Demerger mania crossed the Channel yesterday, as the holding company Chargeurs unveiled a radical split of its media and industrial operations.

Chargeurs, which has a 17.8 per cent stake in UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB, firmly denied market rumours that it intended to sell the holding. Speculation in advance of the demerger announcement helped push BSkyB shares up 21p in frantic trading.

Once details of the split were announced in Paris, the BSkyB shares dropped sharply back, but none the less ended the day 51/2p higher at 3981/2p.

Chargeurs, one of the continent's leading media players, also has investments in textiles and transport, which have reduced the stock's attractiveness, according to media analysts.

But difficulties in the publishing and television sector, including a restructuring charge of 120m FF taken by ailing French newspaper Liberation, were behind the company's losses of 575m FF in 1995, unveiled yesterday.

In a statement, the company said the demerger proposals, which have been approved by French tax authorities and expected to be "tax-neutral'', followed "an assessment by Chargeurs of the necessity to clarify and strengthen the development prospects specific to each of its major sectors of activity."

The company added that the demerged companies would be able to focus more clearly on strategic and competitive issues.

Under the terms of the demerger proposal, Chargeurs shareholders will get one share in Pathe, the new media and television company, and one share in Chargeurs International, the industrial arm, for every share they current hold. The BSkyB stake, inherited following the merger of Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television and BSB, co-owned by Chargeurs, is to remain with Pathe.

Chargeurs bought control of Pathe Cinema in 1990, beating controversial Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti, who later bought the Hollywood studio MGM.

Chargeurs' main shareholder, Jerome Seydoux, who speaks for 29 per cent family stake, has agreed not to sell shares in the company for at least five years. He is to become chairman of Pathe, which already groups the company's cinema interests.

Despite its loss-making status, the company has been rumoured as a buyer for CLT, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster whose name has also been linked with BSkyB. CLT's major shareholder, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, is believed to be prepared to sell the stake.

Chargeurs is expected to take part in the consolidation of the continental television market, which may see a concentration in the areas of digital broadcasting and pay-TV. The company yesterday helped fuel speculation that it would seek partners to expand in the media sector, when it said the demerger would "open up the possibility of forging partnerships".

BSkyB is believed to be among those companies looking at opportunities to expand on the Continent.

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