Trinity Mirror bolts stable after Post sale

TRINITY Mirror, the UK's largest newspaper group, has called a halt to its asset sales after finally selling the Racing Post as part of a £170 million deal.

The London-based group, publisher of the Daily Mirror, had been aiming to raise more than 550m as part of a series of disposals, but said yesterday it had decided to retain its unsold regional newspaper titles - spanning central and south-east England - because it could not attract the prices it wanted.

Yesterday Stradbrook Acquisitions, a company controlled by Irish investment group FL Partners and fronted by a former editor of the Racing Post, was announced as the buyer of the sports division.

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The Racing Post was the main attraction of the sale with considerable interest for its premier position among betting punters.

However the 170m sale price fell 40m below the original asking price - from December, when the sale was mooted - and 20m below more recent expectations.

As part of the deal, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who founded the title in 1986 and holds the rights to the Racing Post name, requested Trinity Mirror make a 10m donation to racing charities.

FL Partners said it would invest "significant resources" in developing online and multimedia services and expanding the title into new markets. Alan Byrne, the Racing Post's editor between 1992 and 2002, has been appointed chief executive and editor-in-chief.

The unsold regional papers would be "fully integrated into the group's new technology-led operating model, which will enable them to reduce costs and explore additional revenue earning opportunities", the company it said.

Chief executive Sly Bailey said the offers the group had received for its regional titles, which include the Birmingham Mail, "did not reflect their true value".

"Throughout this process we made it clear that we were not prepared to sell our high quality media assets at any price," she said.

A private-equity-backed management-buyout had been expected for the Midlands titles. Together with the few southern assets remaining from previous disposals, Trinity's regional auction had been expected to raise 170m-190m. When the auction of titles was announced ten months ago the company had hoped to raise 550m-600m, to be returned to investors, who have raised concerns over its growth prospects.

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In August it cut its expectations to about 450m but yesterday conceded the sales had raised just 263m. The cash will be returned to shareholders.

The group said it remained confident that its 2007 results would meet expectations. Trinity Mirror shares rose 3.25p to 415.25p but remain well below the 501.5p on the eve of December's strategic review.

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