Irish Independent group steps up Mirror stake

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INDEPENDENT Newspapers, Tony O'Reilly's Irish newspaper group, has given further evidence of its interest in Mirror Group Newspapers by lifting its stake to about 2 per cent, writes Rupert Bruce.

It has slowly built up its holding since MGN was re-listed at 50p. Buying interest has pushed the shares up to yesterday's closing price of 63p.

At the end of last month Dr O'Reilly was discovered to be a 1.3 per cent shareholder when MGN sent out section 212 disclosure notices, designed to discover who had been buying.

Yesterday Liam Healey, chief executive officer of Independent, would say only that the 8 million MGN shares were an investment.

The size of Independent Newspapers' stake was disclosed yesterday in its interim results statement which showed a 35 per cent rise in pre-tax profits in the half-year to 30 June.

Strong circulation increases at the Sunday Independent and the Star, combined with cost savings across the group, which includes the Irish Independent, lifted pre-tax profits to Ir pounds 7m (pounds 6.8m) from Ir pounds 5.2m. Turnover increased to Ir pounds 77.4m from Ir pounds 74.5m.

Earnings per share rose to 16.2p from 12.6p and the interim dividend has been increased by 10 per cent to 5.5p.