No split at Meridian, says Hollick: Dispute over acquisition of Anglia denied as MAI lifts profit by 42%

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The Independent Online
LORD HOLLICK, chief executive of MAI, the financial services and media group, yesterday dismissed newspaper reports of a rift between MAI and its partners in Meridian, the commercial television franchise-holder for southern England.

He described speculation that Carlton Communications and SelecTV were unhappy about MAI's takeover of Anglia Television as 'much ado about nothing'.

His comments came as MAI delighted the City with a 42 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 48m for the six months to the end of last year. The shares rose 181 2 p to 299p.

Carlton's chairman, Michael Green, and SelecTV's Alan McKeown were reportedly angry with Lord Hollick's plans to make savings by combining some of Anglia's and Meridian's operations, while taking all the benefits by keeping Anglia as a wholly owned subsidiary of MAI.

Lord Hollick said: 'We made it quite clear in our offer document for Anglia that it and Meridian would be run as separate companies. Our first concern will be to ensure that Anglia is making a full contribution to profits next year, before we look at savings that can be made because we're involved in both companies. Any such savings will obviously benefit both those involved in Anglia and Meridian.'

Carlton picked up 20 per cent of Meridian recently when it bought Central Television, while SelecTV has 15 per cent.

MAI's improved interim result came on turnover up 57 per cent to pounds 321m. Lord Hollick said he was particularly pleased with Meridian's first-time contribution of pounds 5.6m - pounds 2m ahead of most City forecasts. One analyst said: 'The results are very good; the underlying growth of all the business divisions was stronger than expected.'

The money-broking division, still the biggest part of MAI, raised profits 29 per cent to pounds 28m, helped by interest rate movements and the flood of new issues on the stock market. The product range is being expanded, particularly in the international government bonds and derivatives markets.

Profits from retail financial services jumped pounds 1.6m to pounds 4.9m as the rise in new car sales helped the motor finance division. The information arm pushed up profits from pounds 2.1m to pounds 4.9m after good performances from MRI, the US magazine readership business, and NOP, the pollster, in the UK.

Lord Hollick said he was happy with MAI's strategy of building up the media side. 'It remains our aim for information and media to make a contribution approaching 40 per cent of profits.' Analysts expect those two divisions to produce about pounds 37m of profits for the full year out of a total pounds 120m. One analyst said they were likely to match financial services in profits by 1996.

Last month a consortium including MAI, Time Warner and Pearson bid for the dormant Channel 5 licence, which is expected to be re- advertised by the Independent Television Commission.

(Photograph omitted)