Times may bid for Leinster Leader

THE Irish Times is considering making a bid for the Leinster Leader group of newspapers which is expected to sell for more than €80 million.

Irish Times managing director Maeve Donovan told the Irish Examiner that she believes the best way, in the long term, to protect the company’s core product, the Irish Times, is through the creation of a broad-based portfolio of media assets. This, she said, should involve other print titles like those published by the Leinster Leader group which includes the Limerick Leader and Dundalk Democrat.

The Irish Times has just reported a near 10% growth in operating profits to €15.3m with pre-tax profits for the year to the end of December 2004 almost doubling to €15.6m, up from €8.47m in 2003.

Company turnover broke the €100m barrier for the first time, growing to €104.35m from €95.19m.

The Irish Times is well placed to make a major acquisition as it has no debts and Ms Donovan said integrating assets like those of the Leinster Leader was well within the scope of the company’s management team.

The Irish Times will face stiff competition for the Leinster Leader. Other media companies, including Irish Examiner owner Thomas Crosbie Holdings, are also running the rule over the Naas headquartered company.

Ms Donovan stressed that in making acquisitions the Irish Times will be looking for a strong management team within the businesses being acquired.

She also pointed out that management at the Irish Times is currently engaged in effectively doubling the capacity of the company’s Citywest printing presses giving it the capability of printing two national morning titles simultaneously, relocating their head offices, re-branding, launching international editions being printed in England and Spain, and in ongoing restructuring which will result in the loss of up to 40 staff with a view to cutting costs by close to €4.5m.

Ms Donovan said the rise in company turnover was due to “very strong double digit growth in advertising revenue, driven by property to a degree, but recruitment advertising came back very strongly in the second half of the year.”

Itronics Limited, a subsidiary company which operates the ireland.com website, improved its performance from an operating loss of €0.8m in 2003 to an operating loss of €0.6m

Commenting on the results Ms Donovan said: “2004 was another very positive year for the Irish Times. The results have left us well placed to invest in the newspaper in 2005 through our re-branding initiative and the launch of our international editions. Advertising revenues in 2004 and into 2005 have shown good growth and we have continued to develop our contract print business at Citywest.”

Ms Donovan emphasised the continuing need to keep a tight rein on costs and highlighted increased pension and newsprint costs as particular examples of upward pressures on the cost base.

Overall staff costs rose from €42.65m to €43.56m and the company’s 500 plus employees will this month receive a profit share payment equivalent to 4% of annual salary.

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