The last paragraphs of James Robinson’s stories on the Observer’s media pages seem to be making a habit of giving rise to speculation (see also the previous Wordblog post).
Norwegian journalists have picked up on the final words of his story, Candover eyes Mirror, a week ago suggesting that David Montgomery’s Mecom company could be another bidder for the Daily Mirror.
Recently Mecom finalised details of its take-over of Orkla Media which leaves the Orkla group with a 20% shareholding in Mecom. This could increase if a loan note for Â£93 million is not repaid in two years and is converted into shares.
In those circumstances, it is not surprising that Norwegian journalists should be interested in what happens next. Kristine Lowe, a Norwegian journalist, wrote in her blog acouple of days ago:
The Mecom-Orkla-Mirror theory gained further momentum when Dag J. Opedal, Orklaâ€™s CEO, told DN that Orkla would be a â€œsupportive shareholderâ€ in Mecom Europe, after Opedal had presented Orklaâ€™s solid second quarter earnings yesterday. He said Orkla â€œhas faith in Mecomâ€™s growth and development plansâ€, but refused to comment on future investments.
Kristine is sceptical, pointing out a series of problems including the low profitability of parts of his new acquisition and the money he would need to borrow to buy the Mirror.
Yet… it would be sweet revenge for the abrasive Montgomery, who was forced to resign as chief executive of Mirror Group Newspapers in 1999, to walk back through the doors as owner.
His stated ambition is to own a pan-European newspaper business and has rapidly bought papers in Holland, Germany, Norway and Denmark.
The Mirror and its Sunday stablemates are expected to be put up for sale by its troubled current owners Trinity Mirror. And as Peter Preston points out today in the Observer, the Mirror is profitable and successful even with its half-year operating profit down to Â£37.4 million.
Back in April James Robinson (him again) wrote an article headed, Montgomery marshals European titles for attack on British newspaper market. In the context of what was then a bid for Orkla Media, he wrote:
The logic underpinning those deals is simple: the continental market is fragmented and ripe for consolidation. But few expect Montgomery to spend the rest of his days ensuring the sums add up at Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende. The continental acquisitions are a bridgehead back to the UK market, and the next time Montgomery walks into a British newsroom, it may well be as a proprietor.
If he does return, there will be little rejoicing on Fleet Street. Regarded as hard-working but humourless, he was once famously described as a man who could make the temperature in a room drop simply by walking into it. Those who know him well say there is a softer side to him, although few would claim he is one of life’s extroverts.
For the moment we have no idea if Montgomery is interested in buying the Mirror, or whether he could find the money which would be substantial. But there can be no doubt about his ambition to get back into British newspapers.