Publisher plays down bid talk

Midland Independent Newspapers, publisher of the Birmingham Post, yesterday played down the bid rumours which have buoyed the company's share price recently, saying it had not received any serious approaches.

Chris Oakley, the chief executive, described the suggestions as just speculation. "I read it with interest. We have not had bids from anybody."

The shares, which have only briefly risen above their 140p offer price in 1992, have been a strong market of late on hopes of a bid from Mirror Group, part owners of The Independent.

They were up another 5p to 155p yesterday after the group unveiled a 5 per cent rise in underlying profits to pounds 16.6m.

Mr Oakley suggested much of the speculation had come from the group's L!ve cable television joint venture in Birmingham with Mirror Group. Midland revealed it had lost pounds 327,000 on its share of the operation last year, taking its total investment so far to pounds 487,000. But Mr Oakley claimed the station's local news was now more popular than rivals CNN, Sky News and MTV, and said it was on target to make profits by 1999.

In newspapers, a poor performance in the first half which led to a profits warning in June was almost reversed in the second six months, leaving operating profits from the division down just pounds 516,000 at pounds 16.9m.

Mr Oakley credited the turnaround on the sale of underperforming titles in Nottingham and Leicester, the acquisition of 10 weekly titles in the surroundings of Birmingham and better market conditions. Newsprint, which had soared to pounds 550 a tonne, ended the year nearly pounds 100 lower, while advertising had picked up as the year wore on, he suggested.

The group figures were flattered by the inclusion of the first full year of Inside Communications, the magazine publisher acquired midway through 1995, which saw its contribution grow from pounds 1.3m to pounds 3.6m.

The total dividend rises 8 per cent to 3.8p, including a final payment of 2.5p.

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