Packer death poses threat to empire

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The death of Kerry Packer, the buccaneering Australian media magnate, has fuelled speculation that the sprawling media-to-casino business empire that
he built could be broken up or given a fresh strategic direction.

Mr Packer’s 38-year-old son, James, is expected to assume greater responsibility for running Publishing and Broadcasting Limited, a listed company with a market capitalisation of A$11bn (US$8bn).

James Packer has served as PBL executive chairman since May 1998. Mr Packer, who died aged 68 from suspected kidney failure, held the nominal title of executive deputy chairman.

PBL owns the flagship Nine television network in Australia, the majority of the magazines published in the country, along with gambling interests and financial and internet-related businesses.

Analysts in Sydney said they expected James Packer to concentrate on developing the company’s casino and leisure businesses ahead of its media interests.

One analyst said: “I reckon there could now be a fairly significant change of [strategic] direction. James sees the
future in entertainment, not information.”

PBL owns two big casinos in Australia and recently teamed up with Macau’s leading casino tycoons, the Ho family, to develop casinos there and in
Singapore.

PBL made no announcement on Tuesday, an Australian public holiday, but John Alexander, chief executive, is expected to issue a statement when the market re-opens today.

Craig James, a Sydney-based analyst at Commonwealth Securities, said the PBL share price could come under pressure until James Packer had given a clear indication of PBL’s strategic direction.

Mr Packer was Australia’s richest man with a fortune estimated by Forbes, the US business magazine, of US$5bn. His death, on Boxing Day, comes at a sensitive time for all those involved in the Australian media industry, with the government next year set to liberalise the country’s highly restrictive media laws.

Mr Packer’s death was announced on Tuesday morning on Channel 9. A statement read out said the businessman died in his sleep at his Sydney home with his family at his bedside.

John Howard, Australia’s prime minister, led the tributes to Mr Packer, describing his demise as a “great loss”.

He added: “He was a larger than life character and a great Australian.”

Rupert Murdoch, Mr Packer’s long-time domestic rival, described him as a “friend and great competitor”.

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