Branson cuts stake in Virgin Media

Entrepreneur downsizes share to 6.5%

LONDON — High-profile U.K. entrepreneur Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Atlantic airline, has reduced his stake in the Nasdaq-quoted British cable combo Virgin Media from 10.45% to 6.5%.

The deal is the result of Branson’s decision in 2007 to raise £147 million ($225 million) by promising some of his then holding to investment house Credit Suisse.

Under that arrangement the Virgin Group founder had the option to buy back Virgin Media shares he had mortgaged after two years, but declined to do so.

The move leaves Branson as the fourth largest stockholder in Virgin Media.

The others are investment fund Fidelity (13.37%), Franklin Mutual Advisers (10%) and Wellington Management (8.51%).

A spokesman for Virgin Group said: “We remain very committed to the company. We took out this hedge in 2007 to provide future certainty of the value of our stake in Virgin Media, and to enable us to diversify our portfolio by providing funds to invest in new projects.

“After settling the trade, we hold a 6.5% stake and remain one of Virgin Media’s largest shareholders.”

Virgin Media was formed when cable group NTL bought Branson’s Virgin Mobile business in 2006 and licensed the Virgin brand so realizing Branson’s long-held ambition to become a player in the U.K. TV market.