SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian jobs website Seek said it is in talks to buy billionaire casino boss James Packer's stake in a Chinese subsidiary, in a deal which would further reduce Mr Packer's investment exposure to China.
In a stock market filing on Friday, Sydney-listed Seek said it is in talks about buying shares in Beijing-based, New York-listed Zhaopin Ltd that it doesn't already own for US$18 (S$25.5) per share, which, according to Reuters calculations, works out to US$209 million.
Seek, the world's biggest stand-alone listed jobs website, currently owns about 75 per cent of Zhaopin, while an investment vehicle of Packer has two-thirds of the rest, according to Thomson Reuters data.
The move pushed Seek's shares 5.7 per cent higher, their best intraday gain in a year, to a near five-month peak, while the broader S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.7 per cent.
Taking full control of Zhaopin would boost Seek's exposure to China's job market, while keeping the option to spin it off, said Mathan Somasundarum, a strategist at broker Blue Ocean Equities. "If they hold it, they're holding something that's potentially going to do well (and) if they do decide to at some point float it, that's one everyone will jump to get into," he said.
Seek didn't offer an explanation for the move, but said it and private equity firms Hillhouse Capital Group and FountainVest Partners are "in advanced discussions with a special committee of the board of Zhaopin" about taking the company private.
While Seek has been expanding overseas, Mr Packer has been cutting back his offshore investments, in China in particular, since the authorities there arrested 18 of his Crown Resorts casino staff in October amid a gambling crackdown.
In December, Crown cancelled a spin-off listing of its offshore casinos and said it was instead selling down its stake in the Chinese gambling hub Macau.
Zhaopin, which Seek partially sold in a listing in 2013, said in a separate statement that it was discussing the potential deal but was uncertain if the parties would reach an agreement.