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Packer steps back as Hoyts backer

Deal subject to PBL shareholders' approval

SYDNEY — Kerry Packer is selling the Hoyts circuits in Australia and New Zealand to a joint venture of the Packer-controlled Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd. and West Australian Newspapers for A$347 million ($260 million).

Deal is subject to PBL shareholders’ approval. It values Hoyts, which operates 377 screens and has distribution and cinema advertising businesses, at $390 million including $129 million in debt.

Packer’s privately held Consolidated Press Holdings acquired Hoyts for a reported $450 million in 1999. Packer sold off its circuits in the U.S., Mexico and Germany to concentrate on Australasia.

Exhibs and distribs have long speculated that Packer was keen to transfer ownership of Hoyts to PBL or to find a new partner, relieving him of the need to dig into his own pockets to refurbish the loop.

In this deal, he achieves both objectives. WAN, which had been looking to diversify, is a good fit with PBL, which owns a casino in Perth, the capital of West Australia.

PBL will fund its share of the deal by issuing shares to CPH, which will lift CPH’s stake in PBL from 37.4% to 39.1%

The co-venture will begin operating next month.

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