Bottom Line: MAI in the money

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The Independent Online
LORD HOLLICK's media and financial services group, MAI, has decided to raise dollars 170m ( pounds 111m) in the US private placement market. But MAI has pounds 100m of spare cash and does not need the money. So what is it up to?

MAI says the money will be used for repaying short-term debts and US taxes. That will eat up maybe pounds 50m. The rest, it says, 'will substantially increase the funds available to the group for long-term investment'. In other words, the company has pounds 160m at its disposal for 'investing in areas relating to MAI's existing businesses'. This may mean acquisitions.

But what? Rumours have abounded that MAI is to buy a 20 per cent stake in Mirror Group Newspapers. This is unlikely, as Lord Hollick's brief sojourn as a non-executive director of MGN left him with severely burnt fingers.

The group has an 11.4 per cent stake in Intrum Justitia, the debt collector. Any bid for Intrum would have to be agreed (read expensive) and would more sensibly be paid for by using MAI's shares. So the likelihood is that MAI will expand its TV interests beyond the 51 per cent of Meridian Broadcasting that it already owns.

But there is a danger. MAI has only been in TV for five months and is travelling up a steep learning curve. However, with LWT buying 14 per cent of Yorkshire Tyne-Tees and Pearson buying Thames TV, the merry-go-round is starting to move quickly. If MAI does not hop on soon, it may lose its chance. The danger is that it could make a costly error in the process.