DMGT moves to buy i from Johnston Press

Richard Stuart-Turner
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The owner of the Daily Mail is "plotting" to buy the i newspaper from Johnston Press, according to a report from Sky News.

The broadcaster said the proposed bid by Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) is at an early stage but is expected to be lodged in the coming weeks, ahead of a deadline set by Johnston’s advisers at Rothschild bank.

Shares in Johnston Press rose sharply yesterday morning (12 November) following the report, jumping from a Friday close of 3.3p to 4.14p in early Monday trading. The share price stood at 4p at the time of writing.

The publisher put itself up for sale last month, as it continues the strategic review it started last year to find a solution to the repayment of £220m in high-yield bonds, which mature in June 2019.

Later in the month its largest shareholder, activist investor Custos, increased its stake in the company from around 20% to more than 25% to “ensure some of the more insane board or adviser actions can be blocked”.

In July Custos’ chief executive Christen Ager-Hanssen had threatened the publisher with legal action if it were to opt for a pre-pack.

Launched in 2010 and acquired by Johnston in 2016, i is one of the publisher’s most profitable assets and posted a 61% increase in adjusted EBITDA to £6m in the group’s H1 2018 results.

Johnston also owns almost 200 regional newspapers, including The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post.

While a sale of the whole business looks unlikely, Sky News said that by selling the i by itself, Johnston could generate between £50m and £100m in proceeds, much of which would be used to reduce its pension and bondholder obligations.

When contacted by PrintWeek, a spokesperson for DMGT reiterated the message that the company told Sky News; that it “reviews all publishing assets that come to market”, particularly those where it can potentially leverage the scale of its existing national and international media operations.

While Johnston Press had not responded to a PrintWeek request for comment at the time of writing, it had replied to other news sources only by stating “the formal sale process launched on 11 October is ongoing”.

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