Guardian Media Group (GMG) and the private equity investor Apax hope to raise up to £2bn from the sale of the Auto Trader publisher Trader Media Group (TMG), with the two companies eyeing a possible deal within the next 18 months.
TMG was valued at £1.35bn when Apax took a 49.9 per cent share in the business in 2007. Sources close to the situation said yesterday that it was not unreasonable to expect a sale "within a year or a year and a half" and confirmed that the company had held meetings with a number of banks to discuss options. No bank has yet been hired to lead a sale.
Managers at TMG have ordered a review of the business with a focus on the best option for offloading the group.
It is understood that Apax is largely ambivalent about whether the company is floated, a trade buyer is sought, or if another private-equity firm takes control.
A spokesman for GMG said talks were at an early stage, adding: "TMG is a very strong business and well advanced in its digital transition, which makes it a valuable asset for GMG. No decisions have been made about either the timing or nature of our exit from this investment."
Private equity sponsors typically like to recycle businesses they invest in after about five years.
Auto Trader has undergone a widespread transition since the deal, with the digital edition of the paper taking precedence. About 90 per cent of profits in the year to March came from online operations, up from 70 per cent two years earlier – Autotrader.co.uk has 10 million monthly users, compared with the 136,000 weekly circulation of the print edition.
Last month, TMG wrote off £463m of the value of Auto Trader magazine. GMG lost £171m in the 12 months to March.