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Independent News moves resolution for APN director clean-out

Independent News moves resolution for APN boardroom clean-out

By Paul McBeth

Feb. 18 (BusinessDesk) - Independent News & Media, the Irish media group controlled by billionaire Denis O'Brien, wants a complete clean-out of APN News & Media's boardroom after gunning for chief executive Brett Chenoweth's head last week.

The Irish group has made an official request for a general meeting that would put APN directors Chenoweth, Melinda Conrad, John Harvey, Kevin Luscombe, John Maasland and chairman Peter Hunt on the block. The survivors would include INM's appointees Paul Connolly, Vincent Crowley, former INM director Peter Cosgrove and deputy chair Ted Harris.

The boardroom stoush emerged last week, and has been linked to Chenoweth's plans for a pro-rata capital raising that has the blessing of adviser Macquarie Capital. APN said another announcement regarding the capital raising and other matters will come later today and the stock remains halted in the meantime.

INM holds about 29 percent of APN, and O'Brien has a further 1.8 percent on his personal account, and could force APN’s hand with the support of fund manager Allan Gray’s 20 percent stake in the company.

Allan Gray managing director Simon Marais told the Australian Financial Review last week he opposed the rights issue, and has previously said he favours a tie-up with Fairfax Media Group, of which he's also a substantial shareholder.

Angus Gluskie, head of Sydney-based White Funds Management, doesn't specifically follow APN, but says a cheap offer to raise capital could attract interest from bargain hunters as the downturn in media starts to abate.

"You can see some potential appetite because the cycle is turning more favourably," Gluskie said.

INM agreed to sell its South African unit for 2 billion rand to a consortium led by Sekunjalo Holdings on Sunday, according to a Reuters report. That leaves APN as its only operation outside Ireland.

APN is grappling with falling advertising revenue and plans to sell non-core media assets in New Zealand following a strategic review of operations in this country. It took an A$485 million charge against its New Zealand publishing assets unit as part of the ongoing review.

The stock, which was halted last week at 30 Australian cents, is rated an average 'underperform' based on 11 analyst recommendations compiled by Reuters with a median target price at 31.5 Australian cents. That gives it a market capitalisation of A$199.5 million, compared to the A$900.6 million enterprise valuation.

INM has gone through its own boardroom battle in recent years after O'Brien successfully ousted the O'Reilly family, after a ceasefire between the billionaires in 2009.


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