WMG eyes potential sale

Group plotting acquisition of EMI

Warner Music Group is contemplating a sale of some or all of its assets and simultaneously plotting the acquisition of EMI.

WMG, No. 3 among the four major music firms, hired Goldman Sachs to explore the sale of the company after receiving interest from suitors — including buyout unit Kohlberg Kravis Roberts — according to a report published Thursday by the New York Times.

A sell-off might entail just the offloading of WMG’s publishing arm Warner/Chappell Music, according to the Times. That division recently underwent changes at the top with the installation of Cameron Strang as CEO (Daily Variety, Jan. 5).

At the same time, WMG is retaining Goldman Sachs to huddle with Citigroup, debt-wracked EMI’s biggest creditor, about the possibility of buying the No. 4 music operation, the Times reported.

A WMG spokesman had no comment.

Purchased in 2004 by investment groups led by Edgar Bronfman Jr., WMG went public in 2005. Its stock price has gone into eclipse as the music biz went south in the era of widespread digital piracy.

Its current roster of acts has seen little success, and flagship label Warner Bros. Records underwent a major executive overhaul in December.

However, WMG’s fortunes are bright in comparison to those of EMI, which was bought in 2007 by Terra Firma Equity Partners.

In December, the equity group lost a multibillion-dollar fraud lawsuit against Citigroup, and could lose control of the company if it fails to meet its enormous payments to the bank.

Bronfman is said to have long coveted EMI, and many observers have mooted the splicing of the two firms. WMG and EMI have done the merger dance before: As recently as 2006, the companies exchanged, and then spurned, buyout offers.

In 2010, WMG and EMI commanded 20% and 10.2% of total album market share, respectively, according to figures from Nielsen SoundScan.

Market leader Universal Music Group accounted for 30.8%

WMG’s stock gained nearly 12% and rose to $5.27 in after-hours trading Thursday. The company is due to issue its next quarterly report Feb. 8.

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