19 Jun 2012

Fairfax likely to keep remaining Trade Me stake - analyst

7:17 am on 19 June 2012

An analyst says Fairfax is likely to keep a tight grasp on its remaining stake in Trade Me, after selling another chunk of the internet auction site to pay back debt.

The sell off is part of a major restructure by the Australian media company, which plans to cut 1900 jobs in Australia in the next three years, in an effort to cut costs.

Fairfax sold Trade Me shares at $A2.70 a share, a 3.2% discount to its closing price on Friday, reducing its stake from 66% to 51%.

Fat Prophets senior analyst Greg Fraser says when Fairfax originally bought stock to claim 100% ownership of Trade Me, but the company has done an about-turn to sell down part of that business, using the proceeds to repay group debt.

Mr Fraser says it's significant that they have sold down to 51% and believes Fairfax wants to continue to control Trade Me which is seen as a core business.

He says Fairfax has taken the opportunity to take some money off the table and use it repay debt as well to provide a more conservative balance sheet.

Fairfax has also announced plans to switch its landmark The Age and Sydney Morning Herald broadsheets to compact formats, and close major Sydney and Melbourne printing presses as part of cost-cutting measures.

It will fall in line with its main competitor, News Limited, introducing paywall subscription services for its flagship online services in 2013.

Mr Fraser says it's a brave and very big overhaul which will take the best part of three or four years.

He says there is a caveat that as long as the metropolitan newspaper business remains significant in terms of revenue Fairfax will maintain its printing capability, but the changes give it the opportunity to go fully digital in the future if required.

Mr Fraser says it's unfortunate that so many people had to lose their jobs, but it was inevitable.

He says so far the situation seems to be unique to Australia, and although Fairfax will be looking at New Zealand, major changes don't seem to be on the agenda at present.