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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bertelsmann to Sell Sony, Music Unit

FRANKFURT -- German media group Bertelsmann plans to sell its 50 percent stake in music company Sony BMG and its wholly owned music publishing arm to avoid a stock market listing, newspapers reported on Monday.

Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, the investment vehicle of Belgian financier Albert Frere, has said it plans to take public its 25 percent stake in Bertelsmann, a company that has been closely held for 170 years.

The combined value of Bertelsmann's stake in Sony BMG, a 50-50 joint venture with Japan's Sony, and its BMG Music Publishing operations is about $3.5 billion to $4 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Analysts have valued GBL's stake in Bertelsmann at approximately 5 billion euros ($5.99 billion).

The Financial Times reported that the sale plans were at an early stage, but that Bertelsmann had asked investment bankers to begin preparations.

Bertelsmann and Sony spokesmen declined to comment.

Bertelsmann chief executive Gunter Thielen said last week that the media conglomerate was happy with Sony BMG, which is home to artists including Kelly Clarkson and Bruce Springsteen.

"At the moment, it is a very good joint venture because we have common interests," Thielen told Reuters in an interview.

"Our interest is to be the No. 1 in the market. ... We are quite happy with our partnership."

Sony BMG is the world's second-largest music company, behind Vivendi's Universal Music.

Thielen has also said Bertelsmann would wait until after GBL's shareholders' meeting in May before deciding how to respond to a possible listing.

Bertelsmann recently forced a leadership shake-up at Sony BMG, installing Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, the former CEO of BMG, to take over running the joint venture from Andrew Lack, who was given Schmidt-Holtz's less hands-on role as chairman.

GBL said on Monday it was sticking to a statement it made in January when it said it would seek to list the 25 percent stake in Bertelsmann.

The German media group would prefer to avoid a public listing because of its tradition of private ownership, but has said it will maintain strict debt controls.

That has led to speculation it might sell parts of the business to raise the money needed to buy out GBL's stake, which it is entitled to do under their agreement.

Thielen also said last week it would be hard to imagine the company without its pan-European broadcaster RTL, general-interest book publisher Random House or magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr.

Its printing services unit Arvato and book and CD club business Direct Group are also part of the company's heritage and analysts say Bertelsmann would be unlikely to sell them.