By Liana B. Baker and Jennifer Saba
March 8 (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp will start its largely print-based publishing company with no debt and $2.6 billion in cash when it completes the spinoff.
The amount of cash and debt, which analysts generally expected, gives the publishing company a purse to buy other assets should it choose. News Corp released the details in a regulatory filing on Friday.
"You can never count out Murdoch when it comes to buying companies," said Gabelli & Co analyst Brett Harriss.
News Corp said in the filing the publishing company's assets are worth $18.6 billion, which includes newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and Times of London, book publisher HarperCollins and its ownership stake in other assets such as Australian pay-TV company Foxtel.
Media businesses, especially anything related to print, are going through major ownership changes. Tribune Co is exploring the sale of its newspaper assets, which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. Time Warner Inc is spinning off Time Inc, home to magazines Sports Illustrated, Fortune, People and its eponymous newsweekly.
Analysts estimate that Time Inc, which is expected to become a stand-alone public company at the end of the year, will be worth about $2 billion to $3 billion.
News Corp's publishing operations "certainly have the fire power to buy Time Inc," Harriss said.
News Corp declined to comment on acquisition opportunities.
News Corp is injecting money into the new publishing company as the print industry faces unrelenting declines in readership and advertising revenue.
The $2.6 billion in cash is more than three times the $741 million that the publishing division had on hand as of Dec. 31.
At that time, News Corp as a whole had $7.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents and a little more than $16 billion in short- and long-term debt.
The publishing division had revenue of $4.16 billion for the six months ending December and an operating profit of $291 million.
Last June, the global media conglomerate announced the plan to split its publishing and entertainment assets into two publicly traded companies.
The publishing company will retain the News Corp name. The entertainment businesses, which include the 20th Century Fox film studio, Fox broadcasting network and Fox News channel, will be called the Fox Group.
The spinoff company will be traded on the Nasdaq, while the shares will also be listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. The trading symbol is still unknown.
News Corp also said the Fox Group would be responsible for any payments in the civil cases and any investigations involving the telephone hacking scandal at its British newspapers.
For the past several years, News Corp has been dealing with the fallout from the scandal, which stemmed in large part from its now-defunct News of the World.
On Friday, a former policeman and an ex-prison officer admitted to selling information to the Murdoch-owned tabloid the Sun.
News Corp shares were up 2.1 percent at $30.59 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.