Media group targets India for expansion

APN News & Media, the Australasian print and media group 45% owned by Independent News & Media, may target India in its next major expansion.

James Parkinson, chairman of APN, confirmed the possibility of such a move when APN issued first half results, that were boosted significantly from the inclusion of New Zealand publishing group Wilson & Horton results for the first time.

W&H became part of the APN stable last December in a move by IN&P to streamline its global operations.

IN&P executive chairman Dr Tony O’Reilly has long been interested in the potential of the Indian market.

It is believed that some potential targets have been identified on an informal basis.

O’Reilly’s spokesman said however that foreign ownership laws in India would hamper any move in the short term.

Dr O’Reilly’s interest in the Australian Fairfax Group has been frustrated by the restrictive laws applying to foreign ownership of newspaper titles and the same impediment exists in the case of India, he said.

First half net profits at APN jumped 63% to 36.03m Australian dollars. The group said it was on track to meet full year forecasts.

“The board believes that, assuming the expected upturn in the advertising market and the continuation of operational improvements over the remainder of the year, profit forecasts for the full year remain achievable,” APN said. In May, APN said it was on track to meet forecasts of about $92.5m in net profit for the calendar year of 2002.

Yesterday’s reported profits were on the back of a 67% revenue hike to $476.2m and included a contribution from publishers Wilson & Horton. Without the boost, results for the first half performance, on a like-for-like basis, would have been slightly down in earnings per share terms, said the statement.

Commenting in Australia, Mr Parkinson said APN was not interested in any CanWest Global Communications assets up for sale in New Zealand, but confirmed that the company may pursue publishing and outdoor advertising opportunities in India.

He added that APN continued to “admire” Australian publisher John Fairfax Holdings, but refused to comment on long running speculation that Tony O’Reilly may pursue a takeover play for the company.

APN’s view of an upturn in the advertising market was undermined somewhat by a statement from WPP in London yesterday morning that it saw little prospect of a revival in global advertising until 2004.

Chief executive, Martin Sorrell, said the outlook was pretty gloomy in the short term for the sector. WPP is the world’s largest advertising agency, owners of such major names as Ogilvy & Mather and J Walter Thompson. Its first half profits fell 17% and Mr Sorrell warned that the outlook for the next 12 to 18 months was for more bad news.

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