Black considering Telegraph buy-out

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The Independent Online
The Telegraph revealed yesterday that Conrad Black's Hollinger was considering buying out the 41.5 per cent of the British newspaper company it does not own through its US-quoted subsidiary, American Publishing. The Telegraph's shares rose 54p to 434p.

Analysts said that in its three years as a public company the Telegraph had had a strained relationship with the City. This was highlighted by blue- blooded stockbroker Cazenove's resignation as house broker last year. It followed hard on Mr Black's sale of shares in the Telegraph shortly before slashing the cover price of the group's flagship newspaper which sent the share price plunging.

The Telegraph said it felt frustrated not to be in charge of its cover price policy and wanted to get out of the price war as soon as possible, but its hands were tied until the Times raised its price.

The Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International, kicked off the price war in the quality market last year by cutting its cover price. The Telegraph cut to 30p from 48p to follow suit - a move that knocked £15m off pre-tax profit in 1994. "We have no plans for a change in the price of the Daily Telegraph until the Times changes its price," Stephen Grabiner, managing director, told Reuters.

He said the Telegraph was not a natural price-cutter. "It's frustrating to have to say we are not in control of our pricing policy," Mr Grabiner said. But he added that the group had no option but to stay put until News International revisited the issue.

."We are not here by choice. "The sooner we can get out of it the better," Mr Grabiner said. But there was still pain to come. "Clearly there is going to be a further fall in total cover price revenue to reflect the full year of the price war.I am hopeful that most of that will be offset by advertising revenue which grew 13 per cent in 1994."

Mr Black's relationship with the City reached its nadir last year when he sold part of his stake in the Telegraph shortly before the price of the paper was cut from 48p to 30p, prompting the shares to collapse.

Mr Black sold in May 1994 at 587p compared with the original 1992 float price of 325p. When the Telegraph cut its price in June 1994 the shares fell 191p to 349p, leaving many investors who bought Mr Black's shares feeling bruised.

A Stock Exchange investigation exonerated Mr Black, saying there was no evidence he had sold knowing that the price cut and a share price fall would follow. However, his reputation was damaged, especially when Cazenove resigned. The row brewed up again when Mr Black started buying Telegraph shares again in October 1994 at 330p.