Independent Newspapers upbeat

INDEPENDENT Newspapers, the Ireland-based international media group that owns The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, was in upbeat mood yesterday as it announced that currency weakness in New Zealand and South Africa prompted a profits downturn in the year just past.

Liam Healy, chief executive, said the group's strategic market positions, improved economic and currency trends, and the major cost reduction programme now being implemented, position the group well for the current year.

Pre-tax profits fell from IRpounds 100.1m (pounds 85m) to IRpounds 70m last year, after taking account of big provisions for restructuring. At the operating level, profits were only marginally lower and would have been some 3.6 per cent ahead but for currency weakness in key territories.

Commenting on the results, Dr AJF O'Reilly, chairman, said that more favourable currency conditions, renewed economic confidence and the positive impact of the cost-restructuring programme would have a favourable impact on results as the present year progresses.

"We are moving to 100 per cent ownership in South Africa, we have increased our shareholding in Australia to 41.6 per cent and have launched Independent Digital to capture the group's potential in the electronic arena", he said. "In the circumstances of the year under review, we achieved very worthwhile results and this is reflected in the enhanced dividend payment to shareholders", Dr O'Reilly added.

A second interim dividend of IR6p per share is to be paid, raising the total for the year by 15.4 per cent to IR9p.

In the UK, operating losses were reduced to pounds 0.9m frompounds 1.6m the year before. In its results statement, the group said that the move to 100 per cent ownership of the Independent titles had enabled it to revitalise one of the great newspaper brands in the world.

Already, this investment was being recognised in awards, including Editor of the Year to Simon Kelner of The Independent. In addition, recent ABC circulation figures confirm the first year-on-year increase for more than three years to 220,000 for the daily and 252,000 for the Sunday, with further improvements anticipated in the coming months.

"Under our full control, losses at the Independent titles have reduced significantly and we are increasingly confident of achieving the three- year target of break-even we set in March", the company said.

The group plans, through the creation of Independent Digital, to consolidate and enhance its existing Internet-related activities and to develop a coherent infrastructure for them across world-wide operations.

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