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October 9, 2012updated 22 Nov 2012 5:08pm

DMGT does not rule out imminent Northcliffe sale

By Andrew Pugh

The Daily Mail and General Trust has answered questions about a possible imminent sale of its Northcliffe regional newspapers division by saying that no deal has been done.

Press Gazette understands the company has held talks with a number of interested parties in recent months.

Information from sources suggesting that a sale is nearing prompted Press Gazette to ask DMGT and Northcliffe whether this was the case.

Yesterday, a Northcliffe spokesperson said it was "business as usual" and no deal had been done.

Today, Northcliffe  managing director Steve Auckland said he could not issue any comment because the company is in the closed period ahead of its results.

In February 2011, DMGT finance director Peter Williams opened the door to offers for Northcliffe when he said that consolidation was needed in the regional press but that: "We are not going to be the consolidator."

In June, managing director Auckland told staff he could not rule out the business being sold by parent company Daily Mail General Trust.

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In November 2011, the DMGT reportedly appointed Ernst & Young to value Northcliffe ahead of a potential sale. In 2006, DMGT abandoned a proposed sell-off of Northcliffe after it failed to achieve an asking price of around £1.5bn. Today the group is thought to be valued at less than one tenth that figure.

Auckland told staff earlier this year: “I cannot say that we will or will not be sold in the near future. We are working in an uncertain market and our job is to maximise every opportunity.

“We need to ensure teams are focused on delivering results that are better than we ever thought imaginable."

He added: “If we are sold, it will mainly affect the head office team. If you are a good operator in your centre, you are unlikely to be affected.”

In February 2011 DMGT chief executive Martin Morgan told reporters the group had no plans to inject fresh capital into Northcliffe and that it was open to any “worthwhile approaches”.

Since last summer four of the company’s newspapers, including Exeter’s Express & Echo and the Herald Express in Torquay, have switched from daily papers to weeklies, helping Northcliffe return to operating profit growth for the first time since the recession struck (up 34 per cent to £11m, according to the latest figures).

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