Irish media group set for pounds 206m acquisitions

Independent Newspapers, the Irish publishing group, yesterday announced record profits and said it was prepared to spend as much as Irpounds 200m (pounds 206m) on further international acquisitions.

The group, 28 per cent-owned by the Heinz chief executive Tony O'Reilly, shook off spiralling newsprint costs to push pre-tax profits 33 per cent higher to Irpounds 50m, on sales 36 per cent ahead to Irpounds 368m.

Liam Healy, chief executive, said the results from the company's South African and Australian publishing interests were notably strong. "We continue to believe there is a lot of development potential, particularly in South Africa," Mr Healy said.

Independent dominates the Irish newspaper market, where it publishes the quality market leader, the Irish Independent. Operating profit in Ireland increased by 21 per cent to Irpounds 25.9m, on turnover ahead 18 per cent to Irpounds 160.9m.

In the UK, the company owns 43 per cent of Newspaper Publishing, owner of the Independent and the Independent on Sunday, as well as regional newspapers, magazines and an outdoor advertising operation.

It has recently expanded aggressively overseas, taking its stake in Independent Newspaper Holdings (formerly Argus) of South Africa to 60 per cent. Last year it also made its first foray into New Zealand, where it controls 45.1 per cent of Wilson & Horton, the largest publisher, through its 50 per cent-owned Independent Press.

In Australia, the group owns 25 per cent of Australian Provincial Newspapers, the regional newspaper publisher, which contributed operating profits of A$41.9m (pounds 21.3m) last year.

All told, overseas operations account for more than 50 per cent of total profits. Mr Healy said the company intended to continue expanding globally, following an established strategy of taking minority stakes and building on them.

Separately, Independent announced a capitalisation issue on the basis of two new shares for every three currently held. Mr Healy said the issue was aimed at lowering the unit price of the share to encourage investor interest.

A final dividend of Ir6.5p has been recommended, taking the total for the year to Ir10p, up 18 per cent over 1994. The shares added 5p to close at 483p.

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