Lebedev increases stake in Evening Standard after refinancing agreement with DMGT

Evgeny Lebedev has increased his control of the Evening Standard as part of a refinancing deal that has seen the company issue new shares.

Lebedev, left, and the new-look Evening Standard
Lebedev, left, and the new-look Evening Standard

A filing at Companies House shows that Lebedev Holdings increased its total shareholding and its voting shares in Evening Standard Limited to "75% or more of the company" on 9 March.

Lebedev Holdings previously held 65.2% of all shares and 70.1% of the voting shares in the publisher of the Evening Standard.

Evening Standard said both Lebedev Holdings and DMGT, a minority shareholder, supported the refinancing, which showed "confidence" in the free newspaper’s prospects.

But the publisher declined to comment on whether DMGT’s shareholding has changed because of the refinancing or if other shareholders might be affected or if a new investor might have put in money.

DMGT, the publisher of the Daily Mail, previously had 24.9% of the voting shares in Evening Standard, according to earlier filings.

Geordie Greig, the former editor of the Evening Standard who now edits The Mail on Sunday, and Justin Byam Shaw, the chairman of Evening Standard, previously each held 2.5% of the voting shares, plus some non-voting shares.

Evening Standard said in a statement: "The two major shareholders in Evening Standard Ltd have demonstrated their confidence in the future prospects of the company by committing to a refinancing of the business through an issue of new shares."

Evening Standard offered no further comment. DMGT declined to comment.

The refinancing comes after Lebedev Holdings sold a large, minority stake in online stablemate The Independent to a Saudia Arabian investor, Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel, for an undisclosed sum last year.

The Lebedev family has spent tens of millions of pounds on supporting the two titles since acquiring a controlling stake in the Evening Standard from DMGT in 2009 and a 100% stake in The Independent a year later.

The Evening Standard has become profitable after going free and The Independent has also moved into the black after shutting its print edition.

However, the advertising market remains tough. When George Osborne, the editor of the Evening Standard, relaunched the paper this week, he said he had "not wasted large sums of money" on the redesign.

A refinancing could hypothetically give the Evening Standard more resources. Osborne has ambitious plans, telling Campaign last November that he wants to make his paper the "most influential" in Britain.

Evening Standard reported a pre-tax profit of £517,000 on flat sales of £71m in its last accounts for the year to October 2016. Operating profits were £2.2m.

Newspaper valuations vary widely. Trinity Mirror paid about a multiple of 5.4 times annual profits for Northern & Shell’s publishing assets including the Daily Express last month.

Nikkei offered about 35 times profits for the publisher of the Financial Times in 2015 because it was a trophy asset.

There has been speculation in the past that DMGT could be interested in buying back the Evening Standard if it were put up for sale.

Disclosure: Gideon Spanier writes freelance columns on media for the Evening Standard

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