Irish newspaper company Independent News and Media (INM) has agreed a sale to Mediahuis, of Belgium, for a reported €146m, a dramatic reduction in value from pre-2008 values. Major shareholders Denis O’Brien (who held 30%) and Dermot Desmond (15%) reportedly sold most of their shares to Mediahuis on Tuesday. Mediahuis, publisher of De Telegraaf and NRC Handelsblad, in the Netherlands, and De Standaard, in Belgium, along with radio stations, now owns 27% of the shares which is sufficient to prevent a rival bid. The Belgian company was created in 2013 by the merger of the media companies Corelio and Concentra.
It is the company’s first expansion outside its core Dutch-language market where had revenues of €819m in 2018. The deal valued the company at 10.5 cents per share, up 44% on the April 3 closing value, bringing complaints from smaller retail investors. Mediahuis claimed that the price reflected the issues INM has had with data breaches, still being investigated. INM brands include the Irish Independent, Independent.ie, Sunday Independent, The Herald, Belfast Telegraph and a range of regional newspapers. O’Brien will continue to own his stable of national and regional radio stations which are not included in the sale.
The sale is the end of an era for INM which was, for a brief shining moment in the 1990s, a global newspaper group with operations in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. It was controlled by the former Irish international rugby star Tony O’Reilly who, in a glittering corporate career became president of US foods group H.J. Heinz while also building up INM. But the man who became Ireland’s most famous business leader on his way to becoming the country’s first billionaire came crashing down to earth and eventual bankruptcy, through unwise investments in media and in the troubled Waterford Wedgwood crystal and pottery group.
He lost an expensive boardroom battle with Denis O’Brien who became INM’s largest shareholder and resented the O’Reilly family’s proprietorial approach to investments in what had become a substantial public company. O’Brien has now negotiated the sale of INM reportedly for half the price he paid just for his 30% of the shares. No winners.