As Rupert Murdoch suffered yet another blow to the reputation of the News Corporation empire, youngest son Lachlan announced his investment company Illyria had sold its 9.6% stake in regional television group Prime Media — and at a tidy profit. Lachlan invested in March 2009 when the company’s shares were languishing at 48c. Since then, Prime’s fortunes have slowly turned around, thanks to a restructuring and some sharp cost-cutting.

Illyria sold out yesterday at 68c, representing a return of 42%. That’s not bad going in any circumstances, but it’s a particularly good result in the media sector where positive returns of any great magnitude have been hard to find, particularly among listed media groups. Over the same period, the ASX 200 is up just over 25%.

Lachlan is still underwater on his Ten Network investment — the shares have fallen from around $1.30 to 82c since November 2010 — and clearly that’s going to take a bit of time to change. But he’s also likely to be starting to feel pretty positive about the fortunes of toy group Funtastic, in which Illyria has a 14% share. The company is also in the middle of a turnaround, which does seem to be working. Earlier this week it posted a profit of $5.51 million, up from $366,000 in the previous corresponding period. Impressively, the big profit jump came despite an 11% fall in sales. Cost cutting and inventory control are likely to continue to drive results until consumer confidence starts to turn.

Illyria bought in during December 2008 at around 14c, and while Funtastic’s share price got as low as 4c in October last year, the shares are now at 17c. It is likely to be some time before Lachlan can get the sort of returns out of Funtastic that he has enjoyed at Prime, but right now the Murdoch men would take any little win they can get.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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