Decision imminent on sale of Lloyd's List

Lloyd's of London, the insurance market, is to decide imminently whether to sell its profitable newspaper and magazine division, Peter Middleton, chief executive, said yesterday.

He said a "hurdle price" would be set below which Lloyd's of London would not be prepared to sell. "We are not going to sell at just any price," Mr Middleton said.

But he stressed that a final decision about the fate of Lloyd's of London Press had not yet been reached. "We have to see whether the market's interests are best served by keeping it or selling it," he said.

Mr Middleton would not speculate on how much a sale might raise. But analysts said pounds 75m would be a likely target price - roughly twice 1995 anticipated revenues.

Commenting on press speculation that he might stay on as chairman of LLP following a sale, Mr Middleton said the rumours were "inaccurate".

"David Rowland [Lloyd's chairman] and I have stated that we are not going to leave until we have done all that we have set out to do; and we will leave in an orderly fashion." He added that this was unlikely to be before 1997.

LLP, which includes the venerable Lloyd's List and another 30 specialist magazine titles, was a money-loser as recently as 1992. Following cost- cutting and the introduction of a new bonus scheme, pre-tax profits rose to pounds 4m in 1994 and are on course for about pounds 6m this year, Mr Middleton said.

Some efforts have been made to expand the electronic publishing activities, where there is scope for further growth. The strength of the Lloyd's List brand name is likely to attract offers from several publishers. Mr Middleton said several unsolicited expressions of interest had been received.

Reed Elsevier, the Anglo-Dutch media giant that is selling most of its consumer publishing interests, is a much- rumoured candidate to buy the LLP assets. A Reed spokesman declined to comment. He confirmed, however, that the company had received 25 offers for the company's Dutch newspaper interests.

The UK regional newspapers have also attracted considerable attention, the spokesman said. A sales memorandum will be sent out in the next week or so.