Expectation heightens over Polestar bids

Jo Francis
Friday, May 13, 2016

Speculation is mounting over the future ownership of Polestar’s up-for-sale operations, with a new name now in the frame as a potential buyer.

It is almost three weeks since the appointment of administrators from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) at most of the £216m group’s operations including its main web offset and gravure printing sites.

Sources close to the situation had expected any deals to be finalised this week, but the complexity of the situation regarding Polestar’s assets and the potential liabilities involved are understood to be slowing down the process.

At yesterday’s PPA Festival for magazine publishers in London, American print group Quad/Graphics was again mooted as a potential purchaser due to its relationship with key customer Time Inc, which currently prints all its UK titles at Polestar.

And in a surprise twist, media mogul Richard Desmond, the owner of Northern & Shell and Express Newspapers, has also been mentioned as a potential buyer for the Sheffield or Bicester sites.

Opinions are sharply divided on the likelihood of any realistic interest from Desmond, especially given recent speculation that he wants to offload his newspaper interests, including newspaper print site West Ferry Printers in Luton.

“There’s no way, no way at all he’d want to get involved in this,” asserted one supplier to Polestar. “He’s a shrewd businessman, why would he want to get involved in a part of the industry that’s declining rapidly?”

However, Desmond’s uncanny ability to spot money-making opportunities caused a former supplier to Northern & Shell to take a different view. “Richard is a good buyer of assets and has made some wonderful deals over the past 20 years," said the supplier.

“It’s not madly out of line. Who knows, these things have a habit of surprising us."

Desmond has an estimated fortune of £2.25bn according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

Polestar only started printing the Express weekend supplements at Sheffield at the beginning of the year. The work was previously printed at Roto Smeets on the continent.

Polestar also prints Northern & Shell’s New! and Star magazines at Bicester.

The publisher’s flagship celebrity weekly OK! is printed at Prinovis, while arch-rival Hello! is printed at Polestar Sheffield.

“Richard Desmond could buy Sheffield, and then he could just swap the celebrity titles over with Prinovis,” quipped one rival printer.

Northern & Shell joint managing director Martin Ellice had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

However, a deal involving Wyndeham owner Walstead Investments is still viewed as the most likely outcome.

PwC has not provided a further update on the situation since Monday.

PrintWeek understands from Polestar insiders that a number of offers have been lodged with PwC, including one late-breaking bid.

Wyndeham Group owner Walstead Investments and Prinovis both confirmed their potential interest earlier, while YM Group has been named as a possible bidder but has not commented.

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