Independent News profits increase 8% to €47.7m

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Independent News & Media, owner of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, yesterday reported good progress in all its operations and expressed confidence that economic recovery would allow the group to deliver a meaningful increase in earnings this year.

Sir Anthony O'Reilly, the chairman, said results showing an underlying improvement in revenues and operating profits of more than 8 per cent for the first half once again underscored the strength and vitality of the group's leading titles.

"Assuming a continuation of current trading conditions, the group's uniquely strong brands, leading market positions, geographic diversity and enhanced balance sheet leave INM well positioned to deliver a meaningful improvement in earnings for 2003, in line with market consensus forecasts," he said.

In an upbeat appraisal of the outlook, the company said advertising visibility had improved with circulation revenues across the group remaining buoyant. INM's geographic diversity has proved a boon, with the strong growth from operations in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa offsetting more sluggish growth elsewhere.

Profits after tax for the half year rose from €44m to €47.7m (£33.5m), helped by reduced interest and tax charges.

In the UK, the advertising market remained "tough", with profits hit particularly hard in the magazines division, which is reliant on the London recruitment market. The national newspaper titles continue to lose money, but the underlying story was that the papers had performed well relative to competitors over the past six months.

Ivan Fallon, chief executive of Independent News & Media (UK), described the titles as "stronger editorially than they have been in a long time", with improved market share in both advertising and circulation.

A ruling is expected shortly from the Department of Trade and Industry on whether to allow the proposed sale of the company's London regional newspaper titles to Gannett of the US.

The board is recommending an interim dividend of 2.75 euro cents, up 5.4 per cent on last year.