Seven MacBank Stations Eyed by Rural Press

Rural Press has declared it is on the acquisition trail and has already earmarked the seven stations Macquarie Bank will need to divest after its purchase of DMG Radio’s regional network.

After a record profit of $87 million for 2003-’04 (up 27%), Chief Executive, Brian McCarthy has declared Rural Press has become a major player in the media landscape and wants to expand.

McCarthy has told an American Chamber of Commerce briefing in Sydney that the media group has a market capitalisation of $1.6 billion.

“We would be interested in any big media play that is available to us, so long as it is on the right basis.”

Last week, MacBank’s Regional Media bought 29 DMG regional stations for close to $194 million, but it will have to sell off seven because of competition regulations.

McCarthy says Rural Press is interested in adding scale to its own broadcasting portfolio via the seven stations.

“Yes, we would. It fits our asset resource base really well. They’re in markets we understand and know, and we want to grow in regional Australia.

“Acquiring new assets is now a core competency of the group which would, in the absence of changes to cross media ownership laws, consider a major publishing acquisition such as part of its long term strategy.

“In the sector today, there are certainly metropolitan publishers. There are also some substantial regional publishers as well.”

While Rural Press has radio stations in south east Queensland and South Australia, it owns more than 200 newspapers in Australia, New Zealand and the US, plus 17 printing sites around Australia.

Asked if Rural Press has an eye on Austar or West Australian Newspapers, McCarthy says the group is interested in all big media players. He will not comment on whether the organisation is in merger discussions or the subject of takeover talks.

“Let’s just say that from time to time, there’s a lot of discussions gone on,” adding the company will look at any proposal in the interest of shareholders.

Rural Press is 54% owned by Marinya Media Pty Ltd, and this company would have to approve any expansion.

McCarthy is confident about the immediate future, saying that 10 weeks into the financial year, the group is trading ahead of both target and last year.

“We achieved our 2004 result, based on advertising volume growth, as distinct from rate rise growth, and … with volume growth comes pagination growth – therefore expense – so, if the (advertising) cycle was to soften to some degree, clearly we’re in a position where our costs can be moderated to protect us.”