substantial shareholding notice filed yesterday with the New Zealand and Australian Stock Exchanges by NZME, the recently spun-off and listed New Zealand publishing and radio arm of APN News and Media, has confirmed News Corp has a 14.99% stake in the company. That’s not a big surprise because News Corp has a similar sized stake in APN.

But does it? Disclosures to the stock exchange have been confusing. The 2015 list of top 20 shareholders for APN shows “News Limited” with a 10.19% stake. There was no other holder with 4.80% to make the 14.99% for NZME, but the substantial shareholding notice from NZME on Wednesday reveals:

“On 30 June 2016, News Limited acquired a relevant interest, as legal and beneficial owner, in 22,325,238 NZME ordinary shares, as a result of the distribution of NZME ordinary shares by APN News & Media Limited to its shareholders. It also acquired a relevant interest, as beneficial owner, in 7,056,283 NZME ordinary shares, as a result of the distribution of NZME ordinary shares by APN News & Media Limited to its shareholders (the shares were distributed to Dervat Nominees, who held the shares as nominee for News Limited).”

Even though News’ holding in APN was revealed in March 2015, Dervat Nominees did not show up in the top 10 or in another list of major shareholders on the APN website. That updated the News Ltd holding to 11.2% on March 14, 2016. That still leaves News well short of 14.99%, and there was no sign of Dervat Nominees in that list. The March 2015 notice showed Dervat and News with holdings in APN — and that’s when the penny dropped. Dervat was the company used by News to hold APN shares the Murdoch company was quietly accumulating without any direct link to itself. Dervat’s stake in March 2015 was equal to a 4.8% stake in APN, just under the 5% substantial shareholding disclosure level.

Mystery solved! But here’s another: why did the latest change happen at the end of the financial year on June 30 this year? A bit of tidying up, or was it for financial/tax reasons …?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey