Independent News looks to cut debt by selling APN stake

By John Drinnan

APN News & Media shareholders - who saw the company shares rise and fall through Sir Anthony O'Reilly's prolonged 2006-07 privatisation bid - face another wait to see if the shares will attract a premium price.

Sir Anthony's Dublin-based Independent News & Media has said it is considering approaches from unnamed parties who have expressed interest in buying its 39.1 per cent stake.

A source familiar with the situation said the sale process - which is aimed at INM retiring debt - would not be dealt with before the first quarter of 2009.

INM has said it may or may not sell its stake.

A key question for INM will be whether to sell the 39.1 per cent stake in one hit - which would require a formal takeover process which could mean an offer to all shareholders.

That could make the process more prolonged than if the company sold its stake to two separate shareholders, with each below the 19.9 per cent trigger for a takeover.

In the failed privatisation attempt, 15 per cent shareholder Perpetual Investments was able to halt the scheme of arrangement which was led by INM in a consortium with private equity companies Carlyle Group and Providence Equity Partners.

Perpetual Investments head of Australian equities John Sevior has hinted that the company had changed its approach to the shares because of the financial environment. He is reported as saying the decision to knock back $6.20 a share - perceived at the time as a fightback from institutional investors against a wave of private equity takeovers for public companies - was not one of the company's smartest decisions.

INM - whose assets includes Britain's Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers - is weighing up sale of its $559.2 million stake in APN News & Media with news reports saying selling APN would enable it to cut its debts by A$1.5 billion.

But with the global financial upheavals the company is not expecting to double its share price - which closed yesterday at A$2.98.

But part of the payoff to INM will be the accounting impact. Sources with an understanding of the proposed INM review said that under Irish law APN's debt of around A$900 million had to be incorporated into INM's accounts. Selling APN would greatly cut its indebtedness.

INM issued a statement saying the board believed the "significant proceeds receivable from monetising its shareholding in APN would substantially enhance INM's balance sheet".

The other question is whether the prospective buyers who have approached INM include or are associated with private equity interests.

Private equity grew swiftly in 2006-07 with heavy borrowing to leverage purchases.

But with the credit crisis financiers are not risking highly leveraged deals and the source said a private equity company would not be interested in a 39 per cent stake but only in a full takeover, possibly with the support of a trader buyer.

Potential trade buyers suggested include Seven Network, Ten Network and Lachlan Murdoch's Illyria.

APN NEWS AND MEDIA

Largest shareholder with 39 per cent is UK-based Independent News and Media, which is 28 per cent owned by Sir Anthony O'Reilly.

INM - which owns British media including the Independent, Independent on Sunday and media in Ireland, South Africa and India - announced it is planning to sell its stake.

NEW ZEALAND INVESTMENTS

Publications include:

New Zealand Herald, Herald on Sunday, Bay of Plenty Times, Rotorua's Daily Post, Hawke's Bay Today, Wanganui Chronicle. Also websites New Zealand Herald Online and Search4Jobs.

APN's New Zealand Magazines division includes The New Zealand Listener, NZ Woman's Weekly, Creme and Simply You.

CROSS-TASMAN INVESTMENTS

Billboards:

APN owns APN Outdoor the biggest outdoor advertising company in Australia and New Zealand.

Radio:

APN owns half of the Australian Radio Network, ARN, in a joint venture with US-based Clear Channel Communications, recently bought by a private equity company.

In New Zealand ARN owns The Radio Network, with half of the radio stations in New Zealand. These Include Newstalk ZB, Radio Sport, ZM, Easymix, Hauraki, Coast, Flava and Classic Hits. In Australia APN owns Mix, Classic Hits and The Edge.

Australian Newspapers:

APN owns provincial newspapers from the Coffs Coast in northern New South Wales to Cairns in Far North Queensland. It includes 14 daily newspapers and more than 75 community papers.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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