- By Simon Jack
- Business Writer
When trying to understand what’s going on in a complex business situation, focusing on motivation can simplify things.
So let’s try to apply this technique to the fight for control of the Telegraph newspaper and the Spectator magazine. Why is a Gulf state about to take control of these politically influential titles?
What are the benefits for different parties in this drama?
First of all, we should ask ourselves what is the point Lloyds Bank – lender to existing owners, the Barclay family. It’s easy. A family they have been searching for for more than a decade owes them £1.15 billion.
A full refund offer is better than they had hoped for and is all they need or want to leave happy.
How about Gulf Investor, International Media Investments (IMI) of Abu Dhabi, which is carrying out this agreement in partnership with the American investment company Redbird? Also easy.
They can own influential political assets for “just” £600 million. A fraction of the cost of buying a top football club or hosting a World Cup. Plus they get the remaining £600m secured against other elements of the Barclay family empire.
When it comes to former CNN boss Jeff Zucker, who would take charge of the Telegraph and the Spectator, he gives and receives. He gives the Gulf bid the credibility of a former internationally renowned news chief and enlists an independent, deep-pocketed investor to help him break into America’s new digital news markets dominated by large center-left titles like the New York Times and the Washington Post. .
Other bidders told the BBC that, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal, there is no equivalent further up the political right and cited the American success of the Mail Online.
The Barclay family. This is the one that scratches your head. They can exchange £600 million of interest-bearing debt for equity which they will quickly divest, thereby canceling that debt. But for more than a decade they have reversed course to avoid this kind of deal with Lloyds itself – and they are now losing all control over the politically influential assets they have long fought for.
What is in it for the other bidders? Nothing really. Other bidders spent time and money preparing proposals to satisfy a formidable armada of inquisitors. The lender, government and regulators all required bidders to explain the credibility of their finances, business plans and suitability to hold opinion-forming media assets.
It is no wonder that some of them are exploring legal options to prevent circumvention of an auction process for which they had prepared. The BBC understands that Culture and Media Secretary Lucy Frazer has fielded calls demanding assurances that any potential new owners would be subject to the same tests they would have been subjected to.
Some investors in the city told the BBC they admired what appears to be a smart move by Abu Dhabi investors to get a shortcut.
The ultimate decider will be Lloyds – who made no comment this evening. Insiders say they have already heard promises from the Barclay family and will want to see the color of their money.
Gn En bus