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Media groups reduce BSkyB stakeholding

Three media groups - Granada, Pearson and Pathe of France - yesterday sold a 1.1 per cent stake in BSkyB, reducing their holding in the satellite operator to 12.8 per cent. BSB Holdings, the vehicle for the BSkyB stake, said it had no intention of selling any more BSkyB shares and that Granada, Pearson and Pathe would not sell any more shares for 60 days.

But analysts insisted the move cleared the way for Pearson, which is busy shuffling its television interests since the arrival of new chief executive Marjorie Scardino this year, to make a final exit from BSkyB.

The three media companies plan to use the tax benefits from the sale to buy the 6 per cent of BSBH they do not already own.

The sale price was not disclosed, though the 19.5 million shares sold to BZW for placing with institutional investors would be worth just over pounds 123m at BSkyB's closing share price of 632p, down 1p. The biggest beneficiary from the proposed restructuring will be London Merchant Securities, the property and investment group. LMS said the plans would result in it realising not less than pounds 62m in the summer for its entire investment in BSBH, compared with a current book value of pounds 8.1m.

Other shareholders in BSBH, including Lord Hollick's United News & Media, will receive about pounds 4m from the deal. Following the sale, BSBH will own 220.6 million shares in BSkyB, representing about 12.8 per cent. Pearson sold its 9.75 per cent stake in BSkyB almost two years ago, but still retains an indirect holding of 4.3 per cent through BSBH worth pounds 467m.

Analysts said that having resolved the problem of minority shareholders in BSBH, Pearson had to find a way of avoiding a massive capital gains tax bill which would be incurred from selling the rest of its BSkyB stake.

In 1995 the High Court dismissed a pounds 170m claim by LMS against four shareholders in the former British Satellite Broadcasting group over the terms of its merger with Rupert Murdoch's Sky group to form BSkyB.