Outlook: United/CMP

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The Independent Online
LORD HOLLICK has been bitten by the Internet bug and the infection has induced him to part company with the thick end of $1bn for a US technology media company. Behind all the gobbledygook and management-speak of yesterday's press release, it appears that what he has really bought is a publisher of some seriously nerdy computer titles with an online business tacked on for good measure. No matter. The market liked it, moving United News & Media's shares smartly upwards, while the Leeds family which owns CMP Media positively loved it. They floated the business for $500m in 1997 and now their 68 per cent stake is worth $625m.

It takes a serious anorak to subscribe to hard-core titles like Computer Reseller News. But these mags and the advertising they bring in are big business. Luckily for UN&M, they have also been indifferently run until now, which means there is plenty of scope for cutting out the dead wood and improving margins. UN&M reckons it can comfortably extract an extra $40m by combining its US acquisition with its existing trade shows and business-to-business publishing arm, Miller Freeman.

More interesting is what happens to the rest of the Hollick empire. The Labour Lord insists that the pounds 1.25bn of debt UN&M will have after the deal is complete does not put him under any pressure to sell the Express newspaper titles. On the contrary, the margins he envisages making from CMP may enable him to afford to hang on to his national newspaper trophy assets. Meanwhile television looks the more fertile ground for corporate action. Granada's swoop on Scottish Media Group has made it difficult for Lord Hollick to add another Channel 3 franchise to his portfolio, but he has made no secret of his desire to increase UN&M's 29 per cent stake in Channel 5.