O’Brien era at INM costs investors dearly

Since O’Reilly family departed INM in 2012, share price has dropped by two-thirds

INM’s share price, which closed below 8 cent on Monday,  is down 14 per cent so far this year. Photograph: Frank Miller

INM’s share price, which closed below 8 cent on Monday, is down 14 per cent so far this year. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Ostensibly, Denis O’Brien does not control Independent News & Media (INM) with his near 30 per cent stake. But nobody can deny the significance of his influence over the publisher. He is the main shareholder, in every sense.

As INM continues to be roiled by the ongoing State investigation into its corporate governance and allegations of a massive data breach, its share price has tanked. The value of O’Brien’s investment has been hit hard.

But so too has the value of the stakes held by INM’s other investors. How have the fortunes of the group’s shareholders fared overall since O’Brien came over the hill six years ago and vanquished the O’Reillys?

April 19th, 2012, is generally considered the date that O’Brien’s influence over INM was consummated, when its former chief executive Gavin O’Reilly resigned from the group. On that date six years ago, INM’s share price was more than 24 cent.

By the time news first emerged in November 2016 in the pages of this newspaper that O’Brien’s nominee, then-chairman Leslie Buckley, and its then chief executive, Robert Pitt, had fallen out over the price tag for a bid for O’Brien’s Newstalk radio station, the share price had fallen to 12 cent.

Scandal consumed the company last year as Pitt made a whistleblower complaint about the alleged actions of Buckley, and INM issued a profit warning in the summer, damaging its share price again.

By the time it was revealed in this newspaper last November that a suspected data breach at INM was being investigated by the State, the share price was down to 9.5 cent.

Yesterday, it closed below 8 cent. INM’s share price is down 14 per cent so far this year. Since the O’Reillys departed the stage, INM’s share price has dropped by two-thirds.

O’Brien has lost heavily but so has everyone else, including Dermot Desmond, with his 15 per cent holding, and Dutch investor Bram Conrelisse, who controls 7 per cent.

For how much longer can they keep quiet?

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