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AOL makes soft entry on Exchange

Stock was down 2.41% at $23.10 in trading

AOL received a tepid welcome on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, its first day as a stand-alone public company since the 2001 merger with Time Warner.

The stock fell as much as 3% in early trading. It gained some ground later in the day and ended the session down 0.63%, or 15 cents, at $23.52.

That compares with a slight uptick in the broader market and a hefty 4.25% jump for Time Warner stock, which investors seem to suddenly like a lot better without AOL in its stable. Time Warner shares rose by $1.24 to end the day at $30.45.

In a memo titled “Time Warner – Focused on Content,” the media giant’s chairman-CEO Jeffrey Bewkes asked staffers to “please join me in thanking our AOL colleagues for their many contributions to our company and wishing them all the best in the future.”

Time Warner, he said, “is now a more content-focused company that’s ready to reach new heights as a global leader in media and entertainment.”

The company has also shed its cable operations and is taking a hard look at its magazines portfolio, under Time Inc. It is focused on Warner Bros. film and television, the Turner cablers, HBO, and opportunities for international expansion. Without Time Warner Cable and AOL, Bewkes said, one-third of the company’s revenue come from abroad.

Stateside, Time Warner is pursuing the ambitious TV Everywhere initiative to take cable programming online and onto a range of different devices.

For many at Time Warner, the AOL spinoff couldn’t come soon enough.

The Netco cast a cloud over Time Warner almost from the moment the two companies married, dragging down the stock price of the new entity, which for a while was called AOL Time Warner, and damaging the reputations of the architects of the deal — in particular AOL founder Steve Case and former Time Warner chief Gerald Levin.

Hoped-for synergies never emerged and AOL was mired in the early days in accounting scandals, lawsuits and a dwindling business that focused on dial-up Internet subscribers. It’s made some headway reinventing itself, but has a long way to go.

To mark the spinoff, AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong presided at the opening bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange Thursday morning.

“We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think AOL had a very bright future,” Armstrong, a former Google exec, said at a brief press conference following the event.

The spinoff of AOL, in the works for months, was completed late Wednesday night. One share of AOL common stock was distributed to Time Warner shareholders for every eleven shares of Time Warner common stock held as of 5 p.m. on the record date of Nov. 27, 2009.

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