PARIS Media group Lagardere (LAGA.PA) set a timetable for its exit from EADS EAD.PA on Thursday, pledging to sell its 7.4 percent stake in the European aerospace and defense group before July 31.
Lagardere said the long-awaited EADS stake sale would probably come mainly through a share buyback program, with the remainder sold directly on the market.
"Proceeds will be used for an exceptional cash return to shareholders" as well as for paying down debt, Lagardere said on Thursday following publication of its full-year results.
Lagardere has been promising investors for several years that it would seek to exit its non-media assets, including its stakes in EADS and pay-TV channel Canal+ France, with divestments seen as key to the investment case for the company.
The nations behind EADS agreed a shake-up in December to wind down a complex Franco-German power-sharing pact between the French state, Lagardere and German carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE) to put its board and most of its shares beyond public control.
EADS shareholders are due to vote on governance changes, as well as a buyback of up to 15 percent of stock to help Lagardere exit, at an extraordinary shareholder meeting on March 27.
Following the meeting, Lagardere head Arnaud Lagardere is due to quit his post as EADS chairman, to be replaced by Denis Ranque, former head of defense electronics group Thales (TCFP.PA).
As for its 20 percent holding in Canal+ France, Lagardere decided last month to sue media group Vivendi (VIV.PA), which owns the other 80 percent, putting the breaks on Lagardere's plans to list the stake.
Lagardere posted a 13.5 percent drop in full-year recurring operating profit from media activities to 358 million euros ($465.4 million) on Thursday, which it said was 0.8 percent above its own forecast.
It said recurring operating income would range from flat to 5 percent higher this year, based on a drop of around 5 percent in ad sales at its Lagardere Active magazines and radio unit, the division most sensitive to the advertising cycle.
"We expect to have an extremely difficult year in 2013, too," Arnaud Lagardere said.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Astrid Wendlandt, Gary Hill)