Black won't pay 500p for Telegraph shares

CONRAD BLACK, chairman of the Telegraph newspaper group, said this weekend that his long-awaited buyout bid for the company would be "nowhere near" the 500p per share some shareholders are hoping for.

In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, Mr Black said his plans to buy out the Telegraph's minority shareholders, announced in February, might not come to anything because there was still a possibility of not agreeing a price that would satisfy all parties.

If an offer was made, he said he did not "give a damn" whether shareholders took it up or not. "This is simply a courtesy offer," he declared. "I am not desperate to get rid of these shareholders. I'm simply making an offer to them out of courtesy."

Mr Black has had a tempestuous relationship with investors in the City. Last summer, Cazenove, the Telegraph's brokers, resigned as advisers in protest at Mr Black's sale of shares shortly before entering a damaging price war.

Shareholders are now being advised by some analysts not to accept an offer of less than 500p for the 41.5 per cent that Mr Black does not own. When he announced his intentions to buy the shares, Smith New Court, the brokers, said it valued them at between 484p and 510p. "Accordingly we would recommend that shareholders look for an offer around the 500p level," it said.

Mr Black's advisers, however, have been heartened by the fact that Telegraph shares have been trading at around 430p, and Mr Black has now ruled out a bid - at least a first bid - at 500p. "It is just not happening," he said. "If people are holding out for that, they will have to keep their stock."

Mr Black said he had heard stories that Kerry Packer, the Australian media tycoon might be interested in complicating life for him in London by buying shares or launching a tender offer for the Telegraph.

"The thought has occurred to me that Mr Packer might buy shares in the Telegraph," mused Mr Black. "He would be welcome as a shareholder. He would not inconvenience me. I have also heard that the Times might raise its price just as an offer is going through and then lower the price afterwards. If people think they are going to inconvenience me, they can be my guest."

He said that an announcement about the price he would offer for the shares might be made in about two weeks.