Bottom Line: The story at United

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The Independent Online
THE message is sinking in that United Newspapers' embattled national titles are a relatively peripheral part of a broadly spread international media group. Old prejudices die hard, however, and the shares have fallen more than 30 per cent this year.

Actually, the Daily Express and Star have fended off Mr Murdoch's giveaway Sun and Times rather better than many feared, with circulation falls of 9 and 3 per cent respectively. Turnover was maintained thanks to a better- than-expected 6 per cent rise in advertising, and profits fell less than 5 per cent.

But with the nationals' profit only a fifth of the group total, the real story lies in regional papers, magazines and exhibitions, all of which were nicely ahead. Especially encouraging was the performance of acquisitions, in both the US and the UK, which belatedly, but successfully, used up last year's rights issue proceeds and the cash from the sale of Extel Financial.

Pre-tax profits of pounds 69.9m ( pounds 51.3m) benefited from lower interest and a pounds 6.7m contribution from the new businesses. The earnings improvement was a more modest 12 per cent rise to 19p.

After this year's soggy performance the shares, up 2p to 500p, can be bought on a market multiple of 12 times earnings on the basis of forecast profits this year of pounds 135m followed by pounds 151m in 1995.

Given the underlying growth in most of United's markets and sensible acquisitions that is good value.

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