Mirror sells sports unit but keeps regional titles

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The Independent Online

Trinity Mirror has called an end to its disappointing disposal programme following the sale of the Racing Post, after it failed to find a buyer for a string of regional titles who was willing to match the valuation the publisher put on the assets.

The media company, which publishes the Daily Mirror, is the latest to feel the impact of the volatile market conditions where potential bidders for assets have struggled to raise the necessary funds as a result of the credit crisis.

Even the announcement yesterday of the sale of its sports division for £170m to FL Partners, an Irish investment vehicle, was viewed with some disappointment by analysts given that the well-regarded unit has been sold for £40m less than initially anticipated.

The company is understood to have turned down higher offers earlier in the sale process, but believes that in the current market conditions the £170m offer is worth accepting.

The decision to pull the sale of its regional titles in the Midlands and Southeast England reflects the publisher's inability to attract offers for the businesses that match its own valuation. The papers, including the Birmingham Post and the Coventry Evening Telegraph, will now remain in the Trinity Mirror stable with the company confident it can kickstart growth at the regional titles.

Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, said that she believed shareholders would support her decision to call a halt to the sale of the regional titles, arguing that the company has always maintained that it would not sell "at any price".

Nevertheless, the disposal plan – unveiled last December as a potential remedy to the publisher's woes – has proved disappointing. When originally announced, analysts had expected the assets put on the block to fetch up to £650m. But the company admitted last Aug-ust that those expectations were too high, and that a figure in the region of £450m should be achievable. Yet after pulling the sale of the last batch of regional titles up for grabs, Trinity Mirror's disposal plan has yielded £263m through the sale of a string of titles in London and southern England, as well as its sports div-ision.

It is the second time that a national newspaper has called off the sale of regional assets in recent times after Daily Mail & General Trust's decision to pull the sale of its Northcliffe unit last year. Northcliffe snap-ped up some of Trinity Mirror's regional titles earlier this year.

The sale of the Racing Post comes at a crucial time for the paper due to the impending launch of a new competitor, Racing Ahead Weekend, which will be priced below its well-regarded competitor.