Express titles 'not for sale'

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The Independent Online
United News and Media yesterday denied speculation that it was prepared to sell its Express Newspaper titles, despite persistent rumours in the City and among competitors.

But a spokesman confirmed that the newspaper group was looking at ways of cutting costs by working with other newspaper groups to print and distribute their titles jointly.

Rumours about the future of the Express group have been rife for several months, and last reached fever pitch when United announced it was cutting 220 editorial and production jobs, in a move believed at the time to be linked to an eventual sale.

Lord Stevens, chairman, declined to comment on the latest round of rumours.

Analysts said that the newspaper group might be considering a demerger, under which the more profitable exhibitions and magazine division would be listed separately from the regional and national newspapers.

United is believed to be frustrated that its more profitable operations do not receive much attention from the City, where attention is drawn to the suffering Express titles.

"Certainly a demerger could be on the cards," said one leading analyst. "It would make more sense than to try to sell the titles into the current market."

Reports that the Express titles might fetch as much as pounds 500m were discounted by analysts yesterday. Most estimates place the value of the titles, where costs have been cut sharply in recent months to overcome the effects of a cover price war, at about pounds 250m.

But they add that there are few buyers at a time when newsprint costs are rising and circulation stagnant or falling.

Earlier this year, the company changed its name from United Newspapers to reflect its growing reliance on the exhibitions business.