The protracted auction of EMI Group neared a conclusion Friday, with Citigroup Inc., owner of the storied British music company, selecting buyers for its publishing arm and recorded-music label — at a price that well exceeds many industry watchers' expectations.

Barring a last-minute hitch, EMI's recorded-music unit will be sold to Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group for $1.9 billion, while a group spearheaded by Sony Corp.'s music division will buy the publishing operation for $2.2 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. The deal could be announced later today, but the bank may wait until the weekend, the person said.

The now-likely outcome of the auction is a surprise on many levels. Neither Universal nor Sony had been tipped as likely winners in the months of frenzied speculation since Citigroup officially put EMI up for sale in June. Rather, a partnership between private-equity firm KKR and Germany media group Bertelsmann AG was long reported to be the frontrunner for EMI Music Publishing, while Warner Music Group was expected to consolidate the recorded arm.

And though Citigroup had been asking $4 billion for the businesses in total, most analysts thought it would likely have to settle for less, given the challenged state of the credit markets and the music industry itself.

There is still a chance that one of the rivals could come back with a knockout offer before the deals are announced, but that the odds of that now appear slim. Still, agreements with the two parties will need to get over regulatory hurdles which could be particularly formidable on the recorded side. Indeed, Universal expects to have to sell as much as EUR500 million of assets to win approval for the deal, which could take 10 to 20 months, according to people familiar with the matter.

Citigroup has owned EMI since February, when it seized the company from former its owner, Terra Firma Capital. The private-equity firm which bought EMI in 2007 was close to a default on the massive debts it took on as part of that purchase when Citigroup took control of the company.

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