BERLIN — Germany’s Commerzbank looks set to head a joint bid for the 40% stake in German newspaper publisher Axel Springer owned by bankrupt media giant Kirch Group.
The bank wants to form a consortium with Dresdner Bank, Bayerische Landesbank and Friede Springer, widow of the company founder, to take over the stake and float it on the stock market in three years. Springer publishes Germany’s top-selling tabloid newspaper Bild.
Kirch is unloading non-core assets to reduce its billions of dollars in debt following the bankruptcy of its core Kirch Media TV and rights division. The Springer stake is held by the shareholding Kirch Beteiligung division, which is not insolvent.
Estimates put the purchase price at around n1 billion ($902 billion). The Commerzbank has declined to provide details of the plan, which would give it a 16% stake in Springer, Dresdner 12%, BayernLB 8% and Friede Springer’s family foundation 4%.
BayernLB, Kirch’s biggest creditor, and Dresdner reportedly still have reservations about the Commerzbank plan, however.
The Springer stake is being used as collateral by Deutsche Bank for a $653 million loan to Kirch, payment for which is due later this month.
This means Commerzbank has limited time to get the other banks behind its plan or the stake will automatically go to Deutsche Bank.
Fellow German publisher WAZ also has expressed interest in the stake, but Springer has rejected bringing in another rival shareholder.
Springer has been trying to consolidate control of the company for some time and has had a rocky relationship with Kirch. In January, the publisher helped trigger Kirch Media’s rapid slide into insolvency by exercising a $690 million put option it had on its 11.5% stake in Kirch broadcasting group ProSiebenSat 1. Now, however, Springer is expected to up its stake in the network.
Initially, the HypoVereinsbank looked set to pick up the Springer stake, but that move was blocked by Springer after the bank signaled its intent to sell the stake to any interested investor.