German international publishing giant Bertelsmann, the globe's largest non-US media group, proclaimed its intention to "shift up another gear" after posting buoyant full year earnings growth in 2004.

Boasts ceo Gunter Thielen: "In 2004, we stepped on the gas again, and met or exceeded all our own targets." Bertelsmann, he indicated, is truffling for acquisitions with around €1.5 billion ($2bn; £1.04bn) burning a hole in its corporate pocket.

Although Thielen named no names, observers believe UK television channel Five is the most obvious target, especially as Bertelsmann already owns 65% of the company via its RTL subsidiary and United Business Media, holder of the remaining 35%, has indicated its willingness to sell [WAMN: 15-Mar-05].

According to Thielen, there are other acquisitions currently under negotiation and Eastern Europe is said to figure prominently in Bertelsmann's growth gameplan.

In 2004, group earnings before interest and tax rose forty per cent from €1.02bn to €1.43bn, driven by a 2% uplift in sales to €17bn. Margin on sales improved to 8.4%, a figure Thielen expects to boost in 2005 to somewhere near the board's target of ten per cent.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff