Banks Battle over Future of Kirch’s Springer Stake

14 May 2002

Crumbling German media empire Kirch Gruppe holds a 40% stake in Europe’s largest newspaper publisher, Axel Springer. That much is fact; but just who will own the shares in a few weeks is very much a matter of speculation.

Reports over the weekend suggested two separate groups are closing in on the holding, with the outcome still up in the air.

Deutsche Bank has first refusal on the stake, since it was used by Kirch to secure a €720 million ($655.6m; £449.3m) loan whose repayment deadline is Friday. Springer is said to have reached an agreement with the bank on the future of the shares, and the bank is tipped by German business daily Handelsblatt to take control of the stake and handle its sale.

However, other parties are eyeing the shares. Commerzbank has been trying to organise a group of banks to make its own play for the holding, though its plans were rejected by Springer’s management late last week and it lost its mandate to sell the stake.

There is another option on the shares held by Kirch creditors Bayerische Landesbank, JP Morgan Chase and Lehman Brothers Holdings, which could acquire the stake from Deutsche provided they pay off the €720m owed by Kirch. BayernLB announced Friday that the trio have agreed “fundamentally” to Commerzbank’s plans and that Deutsche Bank just wants its money back.

The three banks are still discussing their strategy, and have only a few days to decide whether to use their option.

Data sourced from: Handelsblatt (Germany); The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff