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Air New Zealand trading halted as 20pct stake sold

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- New Zealand's stock market placed a trading halt Monday on Air New Zealand shares after the government announced it will sell a 20 percent stake in the national carrier.

The NZX placed the halt at Air New Zealand's request. Normal trading is expected to resume Wednesday following an off-market sale.

The government said it plans to reduce its stake in the carrier from 73 percent to 53 percent. At recent prices, the sale would be worth 363 million New Zealand dollars ($302 million).

The announcement is part of a contentious program of asset sales by New Zealand's center-right government. Already this year it has sold minority stakes in two state-owned power companies, raising NZ$3.6 billion.

The government says the sales will help it reduce public debt and enable it to spend more on needed infrastructure including schools, hospitals and roads.

Opponents say the program is unnecessary and ideologically driven.

Air New Zealand was government owned before 1989. It was then sold as a private company, until 2002 when a near-bankruptcy prompted the government to bail out the company in exchange for a 76.5 percent stake.

The airline has performed better than many others since the 2008 global economic crisis. This year its after-tax profit more than doubled to NZ$182 million on revenue of NZ$4.6 billion.