INM remains coy over possible sale of assets in bid to reduce €1.4bn debt

INDEPENDENT News & Media (INM) is remaining coy about the likelihood of any sale of high-profile assets in a bid to lower its e1.4 billion debt.

This is despite continuing speculation about the prospect of it disposing of its main British titles — the Independent and Independent on Sunday.

A spokesperson said the review of assets is ongoing.

The media group, which owns the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and Evening Herald amongst other titles here, is to publish its latest set of full-year results next Friday. According to analysts, a 10% fall in revenue in INM’s British division is likely, given recent circulation declines there.

“Given the trend in INM’s UK newspaper circulations, downside risk to the group’s British revenues would seem obvious. That said, current market focus is more on INM’s debt of e1.4bn and the forthcoming e200 million May bond which is due for repayment, rather than on operational trends,” said Goodbody Stockbrokers’ analyst, Gerry Hennigan.

“Despite signs in some quarters, albeit tentative, that the downward economic cycle may be approaching a bottom, industry forecasters in the mass media market continue to pull back expectations of an imminent turnaround in advertising,” he added.

A review of non-core assets has been ongoing for some time at INM.

In addition to the disposal of the London Independent titles, some industry observers believe INM may consider selling its stake in the Irish Daily Star. The profitable tabloid could be considered non-core, as it is 50% owned by INM.

Disposing of its stake in the Star would be expected to generate significant much-needed cash for INM, even in the current difficult time for the industry.

Two of INM’s subsidiary companies — Cashcade Ltd, which operates the gaming website in Britain and Verivox, a German-based price comparison website — have been mentioned as likely sale candidates. It is felt that this type of asset would likely be sold by the group ahead of any wholly-owned newspaper title. However, a spokesperson for the group has already said that any disposal of Irish assets is unlikely.

Some disposal of assets had been expected before the repayment deadline of May for the e200m bond.

Meanwhile, the sale of the Irish titles in the portfolio of British regional newspaper publisher, Johnston Press is still expected to be concluded by the end of this month, although it is unlikely any news will be available to shareholders as early as the group’s annual general meeting, which is due to take place next Friday.


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