Mediahuis's €145.6 million acquisition of Independent News & Media always looked like a smart piece of business for the Belgians given the level of free cash on the Irish company's balance sheet.
News that INM’s board has signed off on transferring up to €60 million of INM’s €80 million in cash to Mediahuis before the year end confirms this view. It also kills off the hope within the ranks of INM that this money might have been invested in the Irish business, which staff would argue has been starved of investment in recent years and battered by negative publicity in relation to corporate governance scandals.
INM’s pension trustees were told that the €60 million would be used for “debt repayment or onward investment” by the parent. As INM’s owner, Mediahuis is entitled to deploy its cash as it sees fit, within the parameters of company law and their banking arrangements.
And the Belgians might argue that the Irish media group – whose newspapers include the daily and Sunday Independents, the Herald, Belfast Telegraph, and the Sunday World – still has €20 million in cash on its balance sheet, putting it in a healthier financial position than most of its rivals.
The trustees were also told that INM continues to be both “profitable and cash-generative” under its new owners.
Mediahuis has recently been linked with a move for the Telegraph Media Group in the UK, which the Barclay brothers are reported to be selling with a price tag of £200 million (€235 million). The move to transfer cash out of INM might provide financial firepower for such a move.
However, Cantillon remains to be convinced that a media company from Belgium will be the next owner of the Boris-supporting, European Union-bashing Telegraph. In the brave new world of Brexit, it just doesn't seem like the right fit.