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Televisa’s Slim Boosts Univision Stake

Grupo Televisa S.A. board member Carlos Slim Domit has quietly increased his personal holdings in Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc., raising speculation that the Mexican broadcast giant may be beefing up efforts to acquire the U.S. company.

Grupo Televisa already owns about 11% of Univision and supplies most of its programming. In a U.S. securities filing April 19, Univision revealed that Slim — chairman of Mexican telephone giant Telefonos de Mexico and industrial and retail conglomerate Groupo Carso — bought 8.5 million shares of Univision on the open market between March 9 and March 20, at an average price of about $33.83 per share. The purchase, made through Inmobiliaria Carso S.A., a Slim family real-estate company in which Carlos Slim owns a 14.6% stake, gave the company a 2.8% equity interest in Univision.

Grupo Televisa claims no beneficial ownership to the Slim shares and said it isn’t part of a group with Slim or Inmobiliaria Carso.

Univision said in February it was exploring strategic options, including a sale of the company, and hired UBS Investment Bank as an adviser. The stock has gained 13% ($3.95) since the announcement and analysts have been speculating media giants Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., CBS Corp. and News Corp. could be potential suitors. Several private-equity firms are also said to be interested in making bids.

Grupo Televisa also will likely be involved in a deal, but because of rules that prohibit foreign companies from owning more than 25% of a U.S. broadcaster (Univision is based in Los Angeles), it will need a domestic partner.

While several U.S. media companies have expressed a desire to expand into the Spanish-language market, Univision’s price may prove to be too hefty. Several analysts predict the broadcaster, which also owns cable network Galavision, will sell at an estimated $12 billion and $13 billion, or $40 per share.

In a report Thursday, Miller Tabak & Co. media analyst David Joyce said the revelation that Grupo Televisa was also seeking to name a Class T director to Univision’s board — a seat vacated by Grupo Televisa after it sued Univision last year, claiming Univision breached its programming agreement and cheated Televisa out of royalties — “points further to a desire by Televisa to gain more control of [Univision] going forward in its potential sale transaction.”