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3 Jan 2008

Blackstone and Citadel looking at stakes in Australia

The Australian Financial Review reported that US hedge funds Blackstone and Citadel have both flown teams into Australia to discuss buying a stake in troubled shopping centre owner Centro Properties Group. Australian institutions including AMP, Colonial First State and listed property group DB RREEF Trust have also expressed interest in investing in the group, the newspaper said.

Centro said yesterday it is seeking expressions of interest in the potential acquisition of the entire group or its wholesale funds in Australia and the US as it desperately tries to raise funds to refinance 2.7 billion Australian dollars in short-term debt by a February 15 deadline. Another 1.2 billion dollars is due to mature in the next 12 months.

"Some pretty big and credible players are talking about injecting equity in the business," the banker was quoted as saying.

"These aren't bottom fishers. They know that if the company can sort out the the liquidity issues, the shares will be over 3 dollars. There's an enormous amount of money to be made."

Centro shares closed 3 cents or 3 percent higher at 1.04 dollars yesterday, although it traded as high as 1.24 dollars earlier in the session.

Centro shares fell from 5.70 dollars to as low as 48 cents after it announced a 3.9 billion dollar financing shortfall, cancelled its half-year to December distribution and slashed its year to June earnings guidance last month.

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