Agnelli family becomes largest Economist investor as Pearson sells out

Britain's Pearson on Wednesday agreed to sell its 50 percent stake in the Economist Group for 469 million pounds ($730.6 million), in a deal which makes Italy's Agnelli family the largest investor in the weekly publication.

Fresh from the sale of the Financial Times newspaper to Japan's Nikkei, Pearson said it had agreed the sale of the Economist to Exor, a holding vehicle for the Agnelli family, and to other existing shareholders which include the Cadbury, Layton, Rothschild and Schroder families.

"We are convinced of the huge potential that still lies ahead and particularly in The Economist's ability to seize the many development opportunities linked to the digitisation of the media industry," John Elkann, the CEO of Exor and a scion of the Agnelli family, said in the statement.

Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker said the price was higher than was speculated, with analysts expecting an amount nearer to 400 million pounds.

Exor said the sale would take its stake in the Economist to 43.4 percent from 4.7 percent for a price of 287 million pounds.

It added that, subject to a shareholder vote, the governance rules of The Economist would be amended to limit the voting powers of any single shareholder to 20 percent, and to ensure that no one individual or company can own more than 50 percent of the group's shares.

Exor, which also holds a controlling stake in carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, among others, has been investing to diversify its portfolio away from the capital intensive and cyclical automotive business.

The publication, which says it targets readers including influential executives and policy-makers, had a paid circulation of 1.6 million a week at the end of 2014. In that year it contributed 21 million pounds to Pearson's operating income and approximately 3 pence to adjusted earnings per share.

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