Desmond Halves Express Debt; Accepts Olive Branch from Rival

27 February 2001

The controversial new owner of Express Newspapers, porn publisher Richard Desmond, has repaid nearly half the borrowings he incurred after buying the ailing titles last year from United News & Media for £125 million.

Those in the know say the cash came from the operating cashflow of Northern & Shell, Desmond’s privately owned holding company. Although the move flattens the sniping campaign by City critics that Desmond is increasingly cash-strapped, the snipers still ask if he has the resources necessary to restore the daily and Sunday Express titles to good health. This has been fuelled by a dispute over an outstanding print bill with Daily Telegraph publisher Hollinger International.

A massive cost-slashing drive at Express Newspapers has saved around £30m – mainly through the closure of several cash-haemorrhaging websites. But Desmond also has to contend with other problems: since acquiring The Express last November, its circulation has slid below the psychologically significant one million mark for the first time. He has played this down, saying that his first priority is profitability not circulation.

Meantime, a truce looks to have been agreed in the vicious war of words between the Express titles and those of Associated Newspapers’ Daily Mail – both of which have been slanging-off their rival proprietors to the glee of the industry.

According to Express executives, Associated has "run up a white flag". The Mail will desist from calling Desmond a pornographer, while the Express will cease its exposés of the Mail’s ruling Rothermere clan.

News sources: Financial Times; CampaignLive (UK)