Trinity mounts pounds 280m TRN bid

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The Independent Online

Trinity International, the Liverpool newspaper group, is bidding for Thomson Regional Newspapers, in a move which would double Trinity's size and make it one of the giants of the provincial press.

Trinity is offering around pounds 280m for TRN, excluding its Scottish interests. It is believed it would also assume debts of about pounds 40m.

The prize would be the market-leading newspaper titles in Belfast, Newcastle, Cardiff, Teesside[SP?] and Chester. These include the Belfast Telegraph, The Western Mail and the Chester Chronicle. Thomson has invested in modern printing facilities serving all these areas, and the papers have an attractive cash flow.

The bid will face an obligatory reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The combined group would have well over 20 per cent of the regional newspaper market.

Trinity therefore plans to finance the deal through a ''trombone'' rights issue, with shareholders paying part now and the rest later, after MMC approval. The rights issue will create one new share for every existing one.

A Trinity spokesman said yesterday: ''We do not comment on market rumours.'' However, it is believed that Philip Graf, chief executive, is attracted by the lack of geographical overlap between its own titles and those in the Thomson stable.

Apart from the Liverpool Post and Echo, Trinity mainly owns papers in the south east and Scotland, as well as Canada and the US. Its most recent acquisition was the Argus Press in southern England, for which it paid pounds 20m in 1993. The previous year Trinity had paid pounds 12m for Joseph Woodhead, the owner of the Huddersfield Examiner, and pounds 45m for Scottish & Universal Newspapers, Lonrho's Scottish interests.

Given the lack of overlap between the Trinity and TRN titles, big cost savings will be difficult to find in the merged group. But Trinity is thought to see the deal as a good one-off business opportunity that will allow it to advance its strategy of developing strong regional papers with tie-ins to local cable TV companies and on-line media.