Liberty Considers Virgin Media Bid: Source

U.S. media mogul John Malone is considering entering a $23 billion auction for Virgin Media, joining several potential suitors for the British cable operator, sources familiar with the matter said Monday.

Malone, chairman of Liberty Global and Liberty Media , called his interest in Virgin Media exploratory but said his company was "doing our homework," he told the Financial Times Sunday.

One source familiar with talks said the issue was discussed by Liberty Global management at a board meeting last week, but the company is still trying to assess if the financial rationale for going forward stacks up.

Another source said prices discussed among various parties have been in the mid-to-low $30 per share range. Virgin Media shares were trading 1.8% higher at $25.15 early on Monday on the Nasdaq.

Virgin Media, whose biggest shareholder is entrepreneur Richard Branson, had asked suitors to submit expressions of interest by the first week of August to kick off an auction of the company, people familiar with the situation told Reuters last week.

About 10 suitors have expressed an interest, sources told Reuters, since private equity firm Carlyle Group made an initial offer earlier this month.

Virgin Media sells cable television, telephone, Internet and mobile phone services.

Other parties who have engaged in "exploratory" talks include a private equity consortium comprised of Providence Equity Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts& Co. and the Blackstone Group, the source said.

Apax Partners and TP Gare also interested, sources said earlier.

Liberty Global could be an attractive partner for a private equity bidder, considering the difficulties financing a $23-billion equity and debt package in tight credit markets, the FT reported.

Liberty Global, the holding company for Malone's non-U.S. cable assets, spans much of Europe as well as cable systems in Japan and Latin America. But the company has been frustrated in the U.K. and German markets, the FT said.

Goldman Sachs and UBS are advising Virgin on the sale.