Third bid for INM’s South African assets

A third unsolicited bid has been lodged for the South African publishing assets of Independent News & Media, but management isn’t anticipating a sale to conclude before the end of the year.

Speaking at the publication of INM’s half-year results yesterday, group chief executive Vincent Crowley said that the latest bid is not as well-developed as the others, but the timeframe on a strategic decision would be “a number of months” and “towards the end of the year”.

When asked how much INM hoped to get for the business — which publishes 15 regional titles — Mr Crowley hinted that recent reports that the deal could halve INM’s €423.3m debt were not too wide of the mark.

He added that proceeds from the South African sale might also go towards reducing INM’s rising pension deficit — which grew from €122.4m to €163m during the first six months of this year.

On managing its costs, particularly its net debt, he remarked: “We have a plan in place, regarding substantial deleveraging, and South Africa is a key element of that.”

INM’s common costs fell by 25% in the first half, due to factors such as wage reductions and the closure of its London office and the moving of its headquarters from Citywest to Dublin’s Talbot St.

However, salary costs grew due to inflationary pressures in South Africa. The ongoing cost reduction programme is also likely to result in more group-wide redundancies before the end of the year.

Mr Crowley said that management is not currently looking at disposing of any assets other than those in South Africa.

He was also asked about this week’s appointment of Leslie Buckley as chairman and said the move was reflective of the challenges facing the group, as Mr Buckley — a close associate of INM’s largest shareholder Denis O’Brien — has extensive operational and restructuring experience.

Asked if Mr O’Brien had influence on Mr Buckley’s appointment, Mr Crowley replied: “Not that I’m aware of.” He added that Mr O’Brien’s influence is “commensurate of a 29.9% shareholder”.

INM also yesterday announced the appointment of Richard McClean as managing director of its Northern Ireland division.

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