Buying spree slows

Seagram cuts stock buyback over last year

NEW YORK — Seagram Co.’s stock buyback activity slowed significantly over the past year, Seagram revealed Tuesday, as the entertainment and liquor conglom focused on acquisitions.

Seagram spent $363 million buying back its own stock over the past year, down from $711 million in the 12 months to September 1997.

The company, parent of Universal Studios, bought back 10.67 million shares at an average price of $34.31 in the past 12 months, compared with 18.8 million shares repurchased in the previous year at an average price of $37.83.

Sources close to Seagram said the diminished repurchasing activity reflected “other strategic opportunities that presented themselves” and required Seagram to conserve cash. In May Seagram agreed to acquire Polygram Holdings for $10.2 billion, a deal that prompted the company to sell its Tropicana fruit juice unit to help raise cash.

Seagram has been more aggressive than most of the entertainment majors in the past couple of years in stock repurchases, reflecting the company’s stagnant stock price. Over the past two years, Seagram’s price has traded between $30 and $40 except for a brief rally early in the summer when it rose to a high of $46.68 before dropping back sharply. Seagram closed down 37¢ to $31.56 Tuesday.

Seagram’s board has renewed the company’s stock buyback program for another year, authorizing the repurchase of up to 3% of outstanding common stock, or about 10.4 million shares.

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