April 9, 2013 / 9:03 AM / 4 years ago

Lagardere sells EADS stake for $3 billion

Logo of EADS is seen at the European aerospace and defence group EADS headquarters in Les Mureaux near Paris January 12, 2011.Charles Platiau

PARIS/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - French media group Lagardere (LAGA.PA) has sold its 7.4 percent stake in Airbus parent EADS EAD.PA, kicking off a long-expected overhaul in the ownership of Europe's top aircraft maker.

Lagardere raised 2.3 billion euros ($3 billion) through the sale, with EADS spending 500 million euros to buy 1.6 percent of its own shares - a buyback below some analysts' expectations.

EADS shares slid more than 4 percent in early trading, then trimmed losses and were down 1.9 percent at 3:28 a.m. ET.

"Many investors we spoke to believed EADS would acquire 1 billion to 1.5 billion euros of the stock being placed by Lagardere," JPMorgan Cazenove analysts said in a research note.

"It is unclear why EADS is not taking a bigger share of this placing but it is possible that EADS is prioritizing increasing its free float over the accretion of a buyback."

EADS may also want to "retain buyback ‘firepower' to support its share price over the next 18 months," the analysts added.

Lagardere shares were down about 1 percent.

The owner of book publisher Hachette and magazines like Elle and Paris Match has said it plans to use the proceeds mostly to pay down debt and return cash to shareholders, likely via a special dividend.

Lagardere's exit from EADS will be followed by the withdrawal of German carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE), paving the way for the aerospace group to have a larger free-market float with combined government stakes capped at 28 percent.

Lagardere, which had initially said it would sell the EADS stake by July 31, announced late on Monday that it had mandated Merrill Lynch and Societe Generale to manage the sale.

Reporting by Blaise Robinson and Daniela Pegna; Editing by Mark Potter

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