INM awaits bid for S Africa assets

The Cape Town-based investment company Sekunjalo Holdings is expected to lodge a formal offer for the South African publishing assets of Independent News & Media “shortly”.

According to local online news service Business Times, Sekunjalo has had funding in place to buy INM’s South African assets since last year.

The group — which has a number of high-profile investments in South Africa — is headed up the local philanthropist Iqbal Surve, who has reportedly held a number of meetings with INM directors and shareholders since the beginning of this year, including one after the group’s AGM in Dublin last month, it is believed.

At that AGM, Vincent Crowley, INM’s new chief executive, told shareholders that management’s focus is firmly on cost-cutting, further debt reduction, pension deficit solutions, and maximising cash flow.

The Dublin-headquartered media group has a pension fund running at a deficit of around €148m and net debt of nearly €428m.

At the same meeting, then chairman James Osborne — who was voted off the board along with former chief financial officer Donal Buggy — responded to a shareholder’s query about overseas assets and commented that further disposals of the group’s foreign assets would have to be looked at, given the cost-reduction needs of the business.

INM’s dominant shareholder, Denis O’Brien, is keen on the South African business being sold and any freshly raised funds being used to expand further into Australia, India, and Indonesia.

Last week, the Financial Times reported that INM had appointed advisers to work towards the sale of the South African assets, adding that a sale could fetch €250m.

The South African assets include the Pretoria Times, the Cape Times, and the country’s largest property website.

INM’s South African unit generated revenues of nearly €195m last year and operating profits of almost €38m.

However, an INM spokesperson poured cold water on the matter, saying such advisers have been working with the group for a number of months regarding its overall strategic options, but no divestment decisions had been taken.

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