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PBL shares down after Packer death

By CNN Asia Business Editor Geoff Hiscock

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Kerry Packer
Casinos and Gambling

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Shares in Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd, flagship of Australian billionaire Kerry Packer, are lower in Wednesday trade following the media tycoon's death.

Packer died at his Sydney home on Monday night, aged 68.

PBL shares, which had closed Friday at A$16.61, opened at A$16.30, down 1.9 percent. They picked up a little ground later in the day to reach A$16.40. The broader market, measured by the S&P/ASX200, is up about 0.6 percent.

Australia's share market was closed Monday and Tuesday for the Christmas holiday.

There had been speculation PBL could fall as much as 10 percent in the wake of Packer's death.

Packer's family holds a stake of 38.4 percent in PBL, which has a market capitalization of about A$11.1 billion (about $8.3 billion).

The shares are down about 4 percent for the year, after hitting a record high of A$17.58 on December 30 last year.

Packer's business empire, built around PBL, includes the top rating Nine television network, a big stable of of magazines and Internet-related enterprises, a stake in pay-TV operator Foxtel and Melbourne's Crown Casino and the Burswood Casino in Perth. His interests extended to ski resorts, beef cattle properties, petrochemicals, property investment, resources and engineering.

More recently, Packer had been developing two casinos in Macau with Hong Kong-based businessman Stanley Ho. They are due to open in 2006 and 2007.

The reins of the Packer empire are now with his son James, 38, who has been joint chief executive of the family's private holding company, Consolidated Press Holdings, and executive chairman of the listed PBL since 1998.

He has a team of highly regarded executives working with him, including television veteran Sam Chisholm as head of the Nine network and John Alexander as CEO of PBL.

A costly investment in the failed telephone company One.Tel bruised James' business record and saw his father return to the fore this year.

Kerry Packer, a larger than life character known as a sports fanatic and prodigious gambler, had amassed a fortune of Aust. $6.9 billion ($5.1 billion), according to Australian business magazine BRW's annual rich list.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard praised Packer Tuesday as a "great Australian" who dominated the Australian media scene for more than a generation.

"Of all the impressions that he left with me, none was greater or more indelible than his passionate commitment to the interests of Australia," Howard said.

He noted Packer's great philanthropic deeds.

"I know for a fact that many of his kindest and most generous and charitable deeds went unreported, which is precisely how he wished it to be," Howard said.

Fellow media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp., said he was saddened to learn of Packer's death, calling him "the most successful businessman of our generation."

"Kerry was both a lifelong friend and a tough competitor," he said.

Packer was regarded as among the shrewdest businessmen in Australia. One of his most remarkable deals occurred when he sold the Sydney and Melbourne stations in his Nine television network to Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond in 1987 for A$855 million and $200 million in Bond Media shares. When Bond's fortunes tumbled in 1990, Packer bought back the two stations and two more that Bond owned for just A$200 million ($150 million).

Packer had been in poor health for years with heart and kidney ailments. But his enthusiasm for business never wavered and earlier this year he effectively resumed running the Nine Network from home, following a ratings slump for the network that has been No. 1 in Australia virtually since television was introduced in 1956.

His last deal, struck just before Christmas, was to make a bid of A$780 million for the five-year television broadcast rights for the Australian Football League's 2007-2011 seasons.

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