A surprise move by a big US investment bank and a group of hedge and investment funds associated with it in the share register of Consolidated Media Holdings (CMJ), the 38% associate of James Packer and the 25% stake holder in the troubled PBL Media, owner of the Nine Network stations in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

A substantial shareholding notice late yesterday from JPMorgan’s Ohio office revealed that the group’s various funds had been amassing a 5.44% stake in CMJ since April 26.

The buying finished on August 26, and JPMorgan seems to have taken its time in submitting a substantial notice to the ASX. You are supposed to do that within three days of moving over the 5% threshold.

The bank detailed buying on behalf of seven accounts including one for the Highbridge group of hedge funds. Four of the accounts were listed as ”investment management” the other three were listed as “proprietary positions” and were the overwhelming bulk of the 37.112 million shares held overall.

The three proprietary accounts held more than 32 million shares and indicate that the bank’s own trading desks, where the bank’s own capital is invested and risked daily, has taken a very aggressive position in CMJ.

Those three accounts alone contain well over 4% of CMJ’s shares, which is a big bet (worth around $110 million at the closing price yesterday of $3.45).

What’s also interesting that JPMorgan would have been competing for CMJ shares against Kerry Stokes who has amassed a 4.82% stake in CMJ. There has been talk of Stokes moving over the 5% threshhold in the AFR, but he hasn’t.

Just why a big US investment bank would have taken such an aggressive stance on what’s essentially a boring collector of dividends and distributions from Foxtel, Premier Media/Fox Sports, and a lot of angst about the poorly performing PBL Media, is uncertain and very odd.

Perhaps JPMorgan has a better understanding of the financial state of PBL Media and its CVC owner (with 75%). There is persistent talk that CVC and PBL media have talks soon with the bankers to those loans which total $4.2 billion) which financed the buyout of James Packer.

There’s also talk that, for all the chat about improved ratings at Nine, that the network lost money in the second half of the 2008 financial year. While the ACP Magazines business has suffered a drain of cash and earnings from slumping sales and high start up costs for a couple of new magazines (Grazia being the main one).

There are also stories around that Lachlan Murdoch remains interested in CMJ, despite failing with two attempts earlier in the year. There’s actually a story doing the rounds that has him and James Packer picking up the pieces of Cons Media in the aftermath of financial problems emerging at PBL Media.

Even for the likes of big banks like JPMorgan, the credit crunch has seen capital rationed internally. That this buying continued through the worst of the crunch and has now stopped for the time being means the traders believe something will happen and have convinced those who allocate capital in the bank.

The move by JPMorgan and its trading desk to acquire a position in CMJ, and at prices of up to $3.78, has certainly raised eyebrows.

Peter Fray

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