DMGT turns to Merrill Lynch to advise on Telegraph bid

LONDON – The Daily Mail & General Trust has called in merchant bank Merrill Lynch to advice it on any possible takeover of Lord Conrad Black's Daily Telegraph Group.

The Daily Mail publisher yesterday confirmed it was interested in buying the Telegraph Group if it is put up for sale, which is likely to come with a price tag of around £400m.

It reassured investors that its finances could accommodate a takeover of the group, as it reported a rise in full-year pre-tax profits of 1.6% to £185.5m, despite a tough year for its core national newspaper division, Associated Newspapers.

DMGT finance director Peter Williams, said the newspaper publisher would not need to sell any other assets to fund a Telegraph acquisition. "There's no way we feel we will have to sell any particular asset in order to do this at any sensible price," he told the Financial Times said.

Williams acknowledged that if Hollinger does need to move ahead with an urgent sale, a DMGT bid could be disadvantaged by a lengthy Competition Commission investigation.

DMGT would also be up against mid-market rival Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond, who is aggressively pursuing the broadsheets.

Earlier this week it was revealed that Spectator chairman, Algy Cluff, is understood to be preparing a management buyout of the magazine from Telegraph Group if Hollinger International is broken up.

Other potential bidders for the Telegraph Group include a number of venture capitalist-backed consortia, former Mirror Group chief executive David Montgomery, outgoing Carlton chairman Michael Green, the Barclay brothers, and former Telegraph Group managing director Stephen Grabiner. Michael Ashcroft, the former Conservative Party treasurer, and US tycoon Nelson Peltz are also seen as potential bidders.

It is still unclear what will happen to Telegraph-parent Hollinger, after being plunged into scandal earlier this month when it was revealed that chairman and chief executive Lord Conrad Black and several other board members had received unauthorised payments totalling $32.15m (£19m). Lord Black is understood to have personally received $7.2m.

Hollinger has appointed Lazard to look at options for the group and is being sounded out by potential suitors.

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