December 16, 2012 / 6:26 PM / in 5 years

RPT-Fairfax selling stake in Trade Me online to pay down debt - reports

(Repeats without change to text)

By Morag MacKinnon

PERTH, Australia, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Australian publisher Fairfax Media Ltd is selling its remaining stake in New Zealand online auction and classified business Trade Me Ltd for about A$600 million ($635 million) to pay down debt, newspapers reported on Sunday.

The Australian Financial Review newspaper, owned by Fairfax, reported that investment bank UBS is offering the 51 percent stake in Trade Me to institutions at around A$3.05 a share. The newspaper did not detail its source.

Trade Me shares closed at A$3.22 on the Australian Securities Exchange on Friday.

Fairfax spokesman Brad Hatch declined to comment.

Fairfax, Australia’s oldest media firm, publishes 400 metropolitan, regional and suburban newspapers and magazines and owns radio stations.

Under massive pressure to reduce debt, the publisher has sold stakes in profitable online ventures over the past year, as they are considered the easiest parts of the business to sell.

The company slashed the value of its newspaper titles by almost $3 billion in late August as it posted a steep fall in profit and said it saw no early turnaround in the worst advertising conditions in more than 30 years.

In New Zealand, Trade Me Group Ltd boasts 2.5 million members in a nation of 4 million.

Fairfax paid NZ$700 million ($593 million) for Trade Me in 2006, the newspaper said. It sold down one third of its stake in an initial public offering in December 2011 and subsequently cut its stake further to 51 percent earlier this year.

“It is believed the opportunity to capitalise on Trade Me’s strong market performance is one of the main reasons for the sale,” the Australian Financial Review reported.

Fairfax shares closed at 51 Australian cents on Friday. (Editing by MIchael Perry)

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