Bertelsmann sees quick end to AOL Europe sell-off

German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG is foreseeing a quick completion of its sell-off of shares in AOL Europe GmbH.

"We want to have it wrapped up in the first half of the calendar year (2002)," said Bertelsmann Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Middelhoff at a news conference here Thursday.

Bertelsmann agreed last year to sell its interest in AOL Europe to the online service's U.S. affiliate America Online Inc., now a unit of AOL Time Warner Inc., with the understanding that the deal would not be completed until after Jan. 1, 2002. As of the end of June, Bertelsmann had collected US$2.5 billion in cash and shares out of a total sale price of $6.8 billion, Chief Financial Officer Siegfried Luther said.

Bertelsmann has said it is shifting the focus of its Internet activities from access to content, a change of direction marked also by the sale of ISP (Internet service provider) mediaWays GmbH to Spain's Telefónica SA, for 2.3 billion euros (US$2.1 billion).

Luther said Bertelsmann's losses from Internet startup ventures have "peaked" at 888 million euros in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Middelhoff added that the company acted quickly to unload Net-related holdings, with the result that its noncore Internet businesses declined in value from 11.6 billion to 10 billion euros, or 14 percent, between Sept. 2000 and Sept. 2001, while the NASDAQ index of technology stocks dropped 55 percent over the same time period.

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