Fairfax Media, publisher of newspapers in Australia and New Zealand, is conducting a strategic review of its New Zealand auction website Trade Me, apparently as a sop to investor concerns about the company's flagging share price.
Fairfax has engaged investment bank UBS to consider a broad range of strategic options involving Trade Me that could potentially lead to the partial float of the digital business, a rival newspaper publisher, New Ltd, reported in the Australian.
While the review of Trade Me - New Zealand's biggest online auction website - is said to be far less advanced than recently announced plans to sell off Fairfax's radio division, sources close to the process said chief executive Greg Hywood was exploring "all options", the newspaper reported.
The most recent round of rumours about the sale began seven weeks ago.
A spokesman at Trade Me's Wellington head office told NZPA at the time that it couldn't comment on reports that parent company Fairfax may "float" a stake in its Trade Me subsidiary.
"We can't comment on speculation about Fairfax's investment strategies, decisions or discussions -- we have to leave that to Fairfax," said the spokesman.
Trade Me has more than 2.3 million active members and is one of the few companies to beat USA-based eBay.
The Australian reported that analysts such as Morgan Stanley's Andrew McLeod had argued there was merit in spinning off Trade Me because the extra funds could be used to fund a share buyback or increase dividends. "Our view is that Trade Me is one of Fairfax's most valuable assets," McLeod said in a note to clients that valued the business at A$1.1 billion ($1.43b) to A$1.3b ($1.69b).
Fairfax bought Trade Me for $700 million in 2006.
Fairfax stock has been in a holding pattern since the start of 2009 after widespread concerns about the structural challenges facing newspaper publishers as readers and advertisers migrate to online platforms. .
The company's shares, which closed at A99c today, have slipped over 34 per cent over the past 18 months, compared with a 23 per cent gain by the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index.
But The Australian noted that the pain felt by Fairfax investors was not unique: newspaper, radio and outdoor group APN News & Media - the publisher of the New Zealand Herald and operator of the Radio Network - was down 43.5 per cent since January 2009.