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Pearson in talks to sell The Economist share

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[LONDON] British publishing company Pearson said Saturday it was in talks to sell its 50-per cent stake in The Economist Group, owner of the prestigious magazine of the same name.

"Pearson confirms it is in discussions with The Economist Group Board and trustees regarding the potential sale of our 50 per cent share in the Group," a Pearson spokesman said.

The announcement comes just two days after Pearson agreed to sell the Financial Times to Japanese media group Nikkei for £844 million (US$1.3 billion, 1.2 billion euros), saying that it wanted to focus solely on the education publishing sector which accounts for most of its business.

The Financial Times cited people familiar with the matter saying The Economist Group stake was valued at £400 million (US$620 million, 565 million euros).

It said the discussions were with other shareholders in The Economist, which include the Schroder, Cadbury, Rothschild and Agnelli families, and reported one source saying an agreement was not imminent but was expected over the summer.

The other shareholders, together with some former and current Economist employees, can appoint seven of the 13 members of the group's board.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, in which the Agnelli family owns a stake, reported that the family were in talks to increase their 5 per cent holding in The Economist through their investment company Exor.

The Agnelli family is unwilling to buy the entire 50-per cent stake however, so other investors would have to agree to buy part of Pearson's shareholdings, the report said.

Exor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Economist Group includes The Economist magazine, the Economist Intelligence Unit research company and the US legislative information provider, CQ Roll Call.

Any deal has to be approved by the trustees of the Economist Group, whose role is to preserve the magazine's editorial independence.