Independent's pounds 52m war chest

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The Independent Online
INDEPENDENT Newspapers, owner of The Independent and Independent on Sunday, is looking to make acquisitions in the UK regional press after selling its French outdoor advertising business to More Group for Ffr495m (pounds 52m).

Independent Newspapers said the disposal would allow further concentration of group resources on the company's core activities of newspapers and electronic media. Acquisitions in the UK regional press and Irish telephony are being actively explored.

Liam Healy, the chief executive of Independent Newspapers, said: "We believe that the recent uncertainty in world markets presents our group with prospects for growth and we are looking at acquisition opportunities."

Shares in newspaper companies have been badly hit by the recent stock market turmoil.

For More Group, Britain's biggest poster advertising company, there is an irony in the transaction as it will enable it to go head-to-head in France with JC Decaux, the French company it fought off in a takeover battle earlier this year.

JC Decaux is the market leader in France in outdoor advertising on street furniture such as bus shelters, while Sirocco, the company being bought by More Group, is the number two in the sector. Sirocco tends to be concentrated on smaller towns, while Decaux is dominant in big cities.

Brendan Hopkins, the chief executive of Independent Newspapers (UK), said there had always been a question mark over the company's French interests as they did not obviously fit in with the group's main newspaper businesses in Europe. He hoped that the stock market would give the company credit for cashing in at a good price.

More Group was eventually acquired by Clear Channel of the United States after Decaux's offer was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

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