Speaking to two of Trinity’s top 10 investors, The Telegraph reported that both are concerned Desmond will be able to extract too high a price as part of a deal to acquire various Northern & Shell assets, including the Express, the Star and OK! Magazine. A bill of around £130m, including a £40m contribution to the Express pension fund, was reportedly discussed.
Print circulation and advertising sales of the Express have fallen by 50% in 17 years, with Aviva Investors – Trinity’s ninth largest shareholder – saying the price is too high because it is more than Desmond’s original payment of £125m for the papers when they were in ruder health back in 2000.
According to a statement from Trinity Mirror, discussions with Northern & Shell are “progressing well” as the group strives to acquire 100% of its assets.
The statement said: “The board of Trinity Mirror will only recommend a deal to our shareholders if it is financially compelling and where we are confident of gaining their support.”
Trinity Mirror declined to comment further.
The Trinity shareholders in question said they support newspaper consolidation in order to reduce costs, as print sales decline, as a way to maintain profits and pay out investors. They voiced concerns over the company’s £426m pension deficit, which was “a gun to its head” and may rush through a less desirable deal with Desmond.
In October, proposed terms for a deal showed that Trinity Mirror would pay a total of £130m, including £60m cash and £30m worth of new shares that would give Desmond around a tenth of the new, merged entity.
Public documents do not reveal the earnings of Desmond’s public assets, which benefit from advertising spending by the Health Lottery, which he owns, and pay £7m in yearly rent to his property company.
Desmond did not comment.
A trading update from Trinity Mirror in December showed that the newspaper group was expecting declines in print advertising and circulation revenue of 21% and 7% respectively over Q4 of 2017, and an expected group revenue fall of 9% on a like-for-like basis.
In November, the group also completed a £10m share repurchase that was originally announced in August 2016. It is currently trading shares at their lowest level since 2012, giving a market capitalisation of just more than £200m.