Independent eyes NZ takeover

Independent Newspapers, the Irish newspaper group run by Dr Tony O'Reilly, yesterday moved to extend its global ambitions with its largest ever takeover bid, a IRpounds 442m (pounds 460m) offer for Wilson & Horton, New Zealand's largest newspaper company.

Wilson & Horton runs the New Zealand Daily Herald, the country's most popular newspaper with a daily circulation of 260,000 copies and runs several magazines. Independent Newspapers gained effective control of 45 per cent of Wilson & Horton a year ago though a subsidiary company, Independent Press Communications (IPCL).

The bid, which had been widely rumoured, follows Dr O'Reilly's failed attempt along with Mirror Group to take over Westminster Press, the regional newspaper interests of the media congolmerate Pearson. Westminster went under the hammer in July for pounds 305m to Newsquest, the regional publishing group.

The latest cash offer values Wilson & Horton shares at NZ$10.50 (pounds 4.67), with a paper alternative in the form of IPCL preference shares which would then be listed on the New Zealand stock exchange. It would be funded partly by a IRpounds 400m borrowing facility which has been arranged. Earlier this year Independent raised IRpounds 106 from shareholders in a rights issue.

About one-fifth of the remaining 55 per cent of the shares not already owned by IPCL are held by New Zealand institutions, with most of the rest in the hands of private investors. Wilson & Horton shareholders have until 8 November to approve the deal.

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