Barclays Suggest New Hollinger Bid -- Or Do They?

30 January 2004

As the battle for Hollinger International rages, claim and counter-claim continue to fill the business pages of the world's press.

The latest developments concern an alleged approach by the Barclay brothers to buy out the international media group, whose newspaper assets include Britain's Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post.

The Barclays, of course, are already trying to secure control of Hollinger International by the back-door, having agreed to acquire Hollinger Inc -- the parent company with majority voting rights in the media group -- from present owner Lord Conrad Black. The newspaper firm, however, is desperately trying to block that deal.

It was reported Thursday morning that Sir Frederick Barclay had contacted a senior financial adviser at Hollinger International, declaring that he was "willing to consider" a $1.1 billion (€0.9bn; £0.6bn) bid for the publishing group. The $18-a-share offer represents a 20% mark-up on the current stock price.

The same reports claimed the offer was not discussed by Hollinger International's board and was rejected by the financial adviser.

However, a subsequent statement from the media group played down the story. "No offer or proposal was ever made," the firm commented. "In a subsequent conversation, Sir Frederick indicated he was no longer considering the $18 price at the present time."

News of a potential bid was met with scepticism by investment fund Tweedy Browne, the shareholder whose campaign for reform at Hollinger sparked a chain of events that contributed to Black's ousting as chairman/ceo of the newspaper group.

"This is not a bid or even an informal bid. [This is the Barclays'] trying to lock up, quickly, an asset on the cheap," declared Laura Jereski, an analyst at the fund.

Tweedy Browne this week stepped up its opposition to the Black/Barclays deal. It sent a letter to US and Canadian regulators that claims the agreement would put $66m "into the pockets" of Black.

The investment fund believes the offer contains a "fatal flaw" in that the Barclays would take on all of Hollinger Inc's obligations, including interest payments on a $120m bond issue. But responsibility for these payments currently lies with Ravelston, Black's private company.

"That assumption of the obligation is worth about $66m to Ravelston under current conditions," continued Jereski. "It is tantamount to the Barclays putting a cheque for some $66m into the pockets of Conrad Black and his associates."

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff