Record Irpounds 100m profit at Independent Newspapers

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The Independent Online
THE IRISH media group Independent Newspapers, owner of The Independent and the Independent on Sunday, yesterday reported record profits for last year of Irpounds 100m (pounds 81.3m) - a 36 per cent increase on 1996.

The improvement was driven by a strong performance in Ireland, where the buoyant economy helped lift underlying profits 18 per cent to Irpounds 42m, and record profits of Irpounds 41m from New Zealand, where the group now owns 99 per cent of Wilson & Horton, publisher of the flagship daily, The New Zealand Herald.

At the operating level, profits rose by 59 per cent from Irpounds 67m to Irpounds 106m on sales up by 43 per cent to Irpounds 599m.

Dr Tony O'Reilly, Independent Newspapers' chairman, said the current year had begun positively in all markets and the decision to take full control of Wilson & Horton would produce further earnings growth this year.

In the UK, profits grew from Irpounds 3.4m to Irpounds 4.9m helped by the purchase of the Kentish Times, while profits from the group's South African titles, which include the Johannesburg Star and newspapers in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, grew 11 per cent to Irpounds 19.7m.

Liam Healy, chief executive, said that circulations of the group's South African titles had begun to rise again, having fallen after the elections, while advertising revenues had been strong in the second half.

He indicated that Independent Newspapers was on the lookout for further titles. "We are an acquisitive company and we will continue to be."

Newspaper Publishing, the publisher of the two Independent titles, made a pounds 7m loss last year. Independent Newspapers, which took control of the company last month, has reduced the carrying value of the business to zero to comply with accounting standards which take effect next year. Brendan Hopkins, chief executive of Independent Newspapers UK, reiterated the group's commitment to invest in the two titles.

Following a revaluation carried out by Hambros, the balance sheet value of the group's newspaper titles has been increased by Irpounds 210m to Irpounds 834m. Year-end debt stood at Irpounds 420m, giving a debt-to-equity ratio of 52 per cent.

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