INM and Lebedev extend sale talks

INDEPENDENT News & Media (INM) has responded to press speculation by confirming that it has extended the outcome deadline of exclusive talks with Russian tycoon, Alexander Lebedev, over the potential sale of its two London-based newspapers to the end of next week.

The Citywest-headquartered media group announced in mid-December that it had entered talks with Mr Lebedev — who already owns the Evening Standard in London — concerning the potential sale of its loss-making titles the (London) Independent and the Independent on Sunday, granting the Russian businessman exclusivity until February 15. Upon reaching that deadline yesterday, INM announced an extension of the period of exclusivity to February 26.

An INM spokesperson said yesterday talks between the parties have been constructive but no deal had been reached as yet. However, a statement from INM did say the deadline extension was aimed at “bringing these discussions to a successful conclusion”.

In a short research note on INM, Killian Murphy of Goodbody Stockbrokers said: “It is our view that the market could view any deal — regardless of price — as positive, given that the titles are loss-making and the costs associated with closing the operations down are substantial.”

It was claimed last year the two titles were losing close to €30m a year.

Although the disposal of them had been called for by independent shareholder Denis O’Brien, during the group’s debt re-structuring endeavours, INM’s management continued to publicly view the titles as key assets and chief executive Gavin O’Reilly had even estimated they could break even by the end of 2010. It is thought in some circles if Mr Lebedev gains control of the newspapers, he will change them into free publications, just as he did with the Evening Standard.


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