Bids for INM’s African assets prepared

Three well-developed bids are expected to be formally tabled for Independent News & Media’s South African assets in the first half of next month, although no sale of the business is anticipated until the new year.

While INM did not comment on matters over the weekend, an industry source suggested INM seemed to be making "encouraging" progress on selling the asset and that any deal — while unlikely to fetch the figure of €250m bandied about earlier this year — could go a long way in helping INM’s management restructure its debt with its lenders.

The South African assets include titles such as the Pretoria Times, The Cape Times, and the country’s largest property website. While management has only relatively recently spoken about the sale, a disposal of the South African operations have been speculated upon since early summer.

On Friday, INM said via its latest interim management statement that "urgent and substantial" restructuring would be needed to tackle its debt levels.

Subsequent reporting over the weekend suggested that management is about to ask its lenders to write off as much as €100m of its near-€430m debt mountain.

INM’s lenders include Irish institutions such as Bank of Ireland, AIB, and Ulster Bank, as well as the likes of Lloyds, Barclays, KBC, BNP Paribas, and Australian-based group ANZ.

Last week’s trading update showed that, in euro terms, INM’s total group revenues, for the year to date are down by over 4%, with ad revenue down by over 7%. It said trading conditions have remained "challenging" due to the difficult economic backdrop in Ireland and South Africa.

"Against this continued backdrop, and the group’s significant level of debt, the need for substantial and urgent restructuring is evident," management further stated.