November 20, 2017 / 10:24 AM / a year ago

REFILE-ProSieben shares rise on M&A hopes after CEO quits

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LONDON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Shares in ProSiebenSat.1 rose almost 4 percent on Monday on news that its chief executive would quit early after a series of missteps, rekindling hopes the German broadcaster could become an acquisition target.

Thomas Ebeling - who presided over a string of profit warnings and an exodus of senior managers this year, topping it off by calling his viewers fat and poor - will leave in February 2018, the company said on Sunday.

ProSieben shares have been the worst performers among the German blue-chip DAX constituents this year, falling by almost a third. By 1017 GMT on Monday, the stock was up 3.9 percent at 26.27 euros.

“ProSieben flags up as an obvious M&A target,” wrote Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker, adding that Comcast’s NBCUniversal could be a buyer, having previously signalled interest in international expansion and ProSieben specifically.

“ProSieben’s announcement last night that the current CEO Thomas Ebeling will step down in February 2018 (ahead of his contract end) might additionally trigger such a deal,” he wrote, keeping his “hold” rating on the stock.

The company’s general counsel Conrad Albert, who is also a board member for external affairs and industry relations, was appointed deputy CEO.

ProSieben has been looking for investors to back its content and e-commerce businesses, which it might spin off, despite having spent only half of the 500 million euros ($590 million) it raised in a surprise cash call a year ago.

Ebeling, 59, additionally said earlier this month that sector consolidation was a possibility but that ProSieben would not be a buyer and that a merger with a peer was not on the cards.

ProSieben has a virtual duopoly with RTL, Germany’s other free-to-air commercial broadcast group, in the German TV advertising market.

But it has confused investors with a digital strategy in which it has amassed a sprawling portfolio of apparently unrelated e-commerce assets while continuing to pile up cash.

$1 = 0.8474 euros Reporting by Georgina Prodhan, editing by Louise Heavens

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