Billionaire Sumner Redstone is breathing easier.

Although the 86-year-old media mogul faces a $500-million debt payment in the next two weeks, substantial gains recently in the value of his family's shares in Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. have given Redstone some badly needed leverage with his lenders.

Redstone's privately held family holding company, National Amusements Inc., had planned to sell most if not all of its theater circuit to cover the looming debt payment. But with an improvement in his financial position as well as a loosening of the credit markets, Redstone has decided to hold on to the cinemas -- at least for now -- and thus avoids a fire sale of those assets at the bottom of the market, according to people close to Redstone.

National Amusements said Wednesday it is selling a just portion of its stake in CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. to pay off its debts.

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