VNU SIZES UP ADVANSTAR, FAIRCHILD;NOT FOR SALE

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Armed with a $1 billion war chest, Netherlands-based publishing giant VNU is again stalking acquisitions in the U.S.

In its sights: trade publisher Advanstar Communications and Fairchild Publications, a unit of Capital Cities/ABC.

VNU might not have the firepower to swallow all of Capital Cities/ABC Publishing-rumored to be headed for the sale block in order to help soon-to-be owner Walt Disney Co. pare debt. The price tag could be in the $2 billion range. But VNU has expressed interest in buying Fairchild, publisher of W and Women's Wear Daily, if it goes into play.

No negotiations are under way, said Gerald Hobbs, chairman-CEO of VNU's BPI Communications subsidiary and parent holding company VNU USA, but "we probably would be [interested in buying Fairchild] if they were selling it."

"There are an awful lot of people interested, but it's not for sale now and I don't believe it will be sold," Fairchild President-CEO Michael Coady said.

But many on Wall Street think a sale is all but inevitable after Disney completes its buyout, which could happen as early as this week.

With 1995 cash flow estimated at about $170 million and annual revenue of around $1.1 billion, any sale of the widely divergent publishing properties of Cap Cities/ABC would likely be in pieces rather than as a single block.

Industry executives expect a wide range of potential suitors, including Gannett Co., Dow Jones & Co. and K-III Communications Corp. in the U.S., plus strong interest from Europe.

More active negotiations are already under way between VNU and Advanstar, which put itself on the block through Goldman, Sachs & Co. last month. The price tag is expected to be in the $200 million range. Advanstar has 55 trade magazines.

Mr. Hobbs declined comment, but executives familiar with the talks said they have gone beyond the preliminary stage.

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