Irish news firm hunts headlines overseas

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The Independent Online
A FLURRY of activity after the year-end at Independent Newspapers, the Irish newspaper group in which the Heinz chairman Tony O'Reilly holds 28 per cent, has taken it part of the way towards its objective of diversifying abroad, writes Gail Counsell.

In February the company bought a 29.9 per cent stake in Newspaper Publishing, owner of the Independent and the Independent on Sunday. Shortly afterwards it acquired two thirds of Capital Newspapers, the London freesheet publisher, plus a controlling 31 per cent interest in Argus Newspapers, South Africa's largest newspaper group.

'It's been our policy for a number of years to grow the company out of Ireland,' said Liam Healy, chief executive. He pointed out that Australian Provincial Newspapers, in which it has a 25 per cent stake, and Buspak, its Australian outdoor advertising company, were the biggest contributors to growth last year.

Operating profits in the year to end-December rose by more than a fifth to Ir pounds 27m ( pounds 26m) on turnover up 2.2 per cent to Ir pounds 173.5m. Partly thanks to a swing in interest from a pounds 6.1m charge to a pounds 1.1m credit, pre-tax profits rose 80 per cent to Ir pounds 29m. The final dividend is Ir7p, pusing the total up 18 per cent to Ir11p. The shares stayed at 485p.