Horsey deal stumbles at OFT fence

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IPC, the UK magazine giant owned by Time Warner, has been forced to walk away from the purchase of an equestrian title after regulators said it may give it too much power in the market for advertising horses for sale.

The company already owns three major publications for horse enthusiasts and professionals: Horse & Hound, Horse and Eventing. In May, IPC announced it had agreed to buy Horse Deals, a monthly publication, for an undisclosed sum. All these magazines carry ads of horses for sale.

The Office of Fair Trading announced it would refer the proposed deal to the Competition Commission for a full investigation. That prompted IPC to drop the transaction.

Paul Williams, managing director of equestrian magazines at IPC, said: "Obviously we're surprised and disappointed at the OFT's decision. But our equestrian titles remain a key portfolio for the company and we remain focused on driving our market-leading brands in this growing sector."

The OFT said: "[We have] decided that the test for reference is met in relation to the supply of classified and display advertising space in equestrian magazines in the UK, in particular the advertising of horses for sale. The OFT is concerned that the combination of the largest supplier of equestrian magazines in the UK with its closest competitor for advertisers may be expected to lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the UK."

The antitrust authorities have a duty to consider the level of competition in any market that would be affected by a deal that falls into their remit.

In 2004, the OFT referred another magazine transaction - the £96.5m acquisition of Highbury House by Future - to the commission, causing the deal to fall apart. The OFT said at the time it was concerned the deal would lead to too much concentration in the market for computer game magazines.