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Packer reduces Crown stake below 50pct

AAP logoAAP 29/08/2016 Trevor Chappell

Billionaire James Packer has reduced his majority stake in casinos operator Crown Resorts, reaping around $448 million as he restructures his finances in the wake of an agreement with his sister Gretel on a division of the Packer family assets.

On Monday, Mr Packer's private investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH), said it had sold 35 million Crown shares - about 4.8 per cent of Crown's issued stock - at $12.80 per share to undisclosed investors.

Mr Packer reportedly made a $1.25 billion settlement with Gretel Packer on October 2015 and it is understood the latest sale of Crown shares relates to debt restructuring and financial arrangements at CPH in the wake of asset agreement.

The sale takes Mr Packer's stake in Crown down from 53 per cent previously but, through CPH, he still holds 48.2 per cent.

A letter from CPH's group legal counsel, released by Crown on Monday, said the sale was being conducted "as part of CPH's financing and capital management strategy".

"CPH remains deeply committed to Crown Resorts and is excited about the future for the company," the letter said.

"CPH remains supportive of Crown Resorts' recently announced initiatives to increase shareholder value, being the new dividend policy, proposed demerger and the continued evaluation of a potential REIT (real estate investment trust)."

The shares that CPH disposed of were sold at a five per cent discount to last Friday's $13.52 closing price.

Crown shares were 20 cents lower at $13.32 on Monday.

Although Mr Packer has reduced his stake in Crown, sources say he can easily increase his shareholding again to regain majority control, and there is no retreat from Crown.

Mr Packer has been reducing his public role at Crown Resorts. In August 2015, he stepped down as Crown chairman and was replaced by Robert Rankin.

In December 2015, Mr Packer resigned as a director from the Crown Resorts board but said at the time that Crown was his biggest professional priority and that it (Crown) represented the vast majority of his net wealth.

In June 2016, Crown announced plans to demerge its international investments, including its joint-venture operations in Macau, into a separately listed company in an effort to realise the value of its casinos in Melbourne and Perth, and its Barangaroo development in Sydney.

Crown is also considering creating a new property trust for its Melbourne and Perth hotels.

Earlier in August, Crown booked a net profit for the year to June 30 of $948.8 million - up 146.4 per cent.

The bottom line was boosted by a net gain of $602 million from the sale of 155 million shares in the Macau joint-venture Melco Crown Entertainment (MCE).

Crown still holds a 27.4 per cent stake in MCE, valued at about $2.3 billion.

Casinos in Macau have been hit hard by a Chinese government crackdown on corruption against officials and politically-linked businessmen, and slowing economic growth in China.

Crown's share in MCE's normalised annual net profit fell 64 per cent to $58.1 million, from $161.3 million a year earlier.

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