Irish media conglomerate Independent News & Media is looking at its options again in the love-hate saga of its ownership of Australia’s APN News & Media.
A 39.1 per cent holding makes the Irish publisher the group’s driving force … but it still can’t control cash flow from the subsidiary.
Now “a number of unsolicited expressions of interest” in the shareholding have prompted INM to make a public announcement that it is “considering its strategic options”.
Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network – which has been working its way further into the board of Stokes’ local ‘West Australian’ – has been mentioned among possible suitors. While the official position is that Seven “does not comment on speculation”, the group makes its position pretty clear with a spokesman’s additional comment (reported by B&T) “We have no debt, more than $1bn in the bank, and patience when it comes to determining any future investment in media in Australia.”
Other companies which have been mentioned include the Ten Network, West Australian Newspapers, Lachlan Murdoch’s Illyria and Fairfax Media ... and there is speculation that the diverse assets may be split up.
INM has been a shareholder in APN since 1988: Chairman Tony O’Relly was famously in the right place at the right time when Rupert Murdoch had to divest the former Provincial Newspapers North Queensland and related holdings following News’ acquisition of the Herald & Weekly Times. An added advantage – in an era of foreign media ownership controls – was the fact that members of the O’Reilly family had been born in Australia.
APN chief exectutive Brendan hopkins has been a director of INM, resigning following the announcement.
Interests in New Zealand have been added since, plus radio and outdoor advertising assets now branded under the APN name.
And while INM says it “continues to be fully supportive of APN and its management team”, it can’t resist the temptation to resolve its control dilemma.
The statement says the INM board “believes that APN’s current share price does not reflect the inherent value of the underlying assets and the position of APN as a leading media company in Australia and New Zealand.
“Moreover, this strategic value has not been fairly reflected in INM’s share price, due primarily to the fact that INM doesn’t fully control APN’s cash flows. As a result, the Board has formally informed APN of its intention to explore opportunities to monetise its significant shareholding.”
Proceeds from the sale substantially enhance INM’s balance sheet and would be
earnings neutral for 2009, the group says. “Proceeds could be better utilised for
the benefit of all its shareholders by substantially lowering INM’s net debt, with
subsequent flexibility to assess other global investment opportunities. “
Following a sale of APN, INM’s net debt would fall from its current level of approx. €1.4 billion to under €600 million, the statement says.
• Among other media investments, INM took a 20 per cent share in PT Abdi Bangsa,
publisher of the Indonesian national daily, ‘Republika’. It already owns ‘Dainik Jagran’ in India, and has outdoor advertising businesses in Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and across Africa partly through APN.