Independent may boost stake abroad

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Independent Newspapers, the media company controlled by Dr Tony O'Reilly, could move this year to increase its direct stake in its Australian and New Zealand associate companies, using the proceeds of a previously announced Irpounds 106m rights issue.

The option was under active consideration, Brendan Hopkins, managing director, said yesterday, commenting on the company's interim profits.

Independent could also bid for the 47 regional newspaper titles being sold by United News & Media, Lord Hollick's print and television media company.

The acquisitive mood was struck as half-year pre-tax profits improved by 28 per cent to Irpounds 26m, buoyed by record profits and circulation gains at the company's core Irish titles. The interim dividend was lifted 12 per cent to 2.3p, and the shares rose 5p to 307.5p.

Overseas, the results were particularly strong in South Africa and Australia, where Independent owns a stake in Australian Provincial Newspapers and ARN, the radio network.

Mr Hopkins said that moderating newsprint prices, as well as a buoyant advertising market in the UK, helped reduce losses at Newspaper Publishing, in which Independent has a 46 per cent stake. Newspaper Publishing owns the Independent and the Independent on Sunday, and saw operating losses decline in the first six months of the year to pounds 7m, from pounds 12.6m last time.

The company intends to pursue new television and radio licences in South Africa. But Mr Hopkins ruled out investments in the UK commercial radio sector.