Herald float aborted

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The Independent Online
THE newspaper price war has torpedoed the flotation plans of the management team that bought the Glasgow-based Herald newspaper group from Lonrho three years ago.

Although the Herald, headed by Liam Kane, operates on the fringes of the main newspaper battleground, the price war has depressed circulation. A float has consequently been postponed for at least two years.

In the meantime, a trade sale seems the most likely solution if the management team decides a long wait for their rewards is too risky. One option that has been discussed is a sale to Midland Independent Newspapers, owners of the Birmingham Post, which set off a year ahead of the Herald group down the buyout route and successfully floated last year before the price war.

But there are doubts about how the citizens of Glasgow would react to the sale of their favourite reading matter to an English group whose chairman is Sir Norman Fowler, a former chairman of the Tory Party.

Midland Independent Newspapers' shares are also below their peak, and there is some doubt whether the Herald shareholders would be happy with a share-based offer from MIN or whether MIN could afford a cash sweetener.

A more likely option would be a bid from Associated Newspapers, which already has a contract to print the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail on Herald presses. Possible rivals believe that could give Associated Newspapers a valuable inside track on the Herald's finances should interested parties be invited to submit sealed bids.

But Associated could also fall foul of anti-government feeling in Scotland, because of its traditional support for the Conservative Party. Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, would be the preferred buyer.