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City Republic: Guardian's Emap bid and the shaky markets

In this morning's City Republic, Stephen Foster looks at the Guardian's bid for Emap, the ongoing downward trend of the markets, possible interest rate cuts and overseas ownership.

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Guardian and Apax front up for Emap Business
I can't remember which CEO of The Guardian had the brainwave of buying Reading football club owner John Madejski's Auto Trader group, local publications flogging second hand cars, but he or she (the odds are on a Carolyn I guess) was a genius.

The purpose of Guardian Media Group, as defined by its ultimate owner the Scott Trust, is to keep the Guardian newspaper going by funding its losses.

So it needs a deal or two on the side.

In the old days, the Manchester Evening News used to provide the dosh, since then it's been Auto Trader.

Half of that's now been sold to private equity for £600m or so and now it looks like the Guardian is putting the money to work by teaming up with private equity outfit Apax to buy Emap's business division for an eye-watering figure somewhere north of £1bn.

Having toiled at Emap Business for a couple of years in the 90s, I find this valuation quite extraordinary.

They were not, shall we say, the sharpest knives in the box.

Anyway, I'm sure the Guardian and Apax have worked out their sums correctly and a business cum exhibitions bit would be a neat add-on to The Guardian and would, presumably, benefit from its (mysteriously unprofitable) online expertise.

But £1bn plus? Phew!

Markets go from bad to worse
Financial markets are in a right old mess with the people who are supposed to take a lead, like the Financial Services Authority (the so-called regulator of this business) wringing their hands in public and saying, "what shall we do?"

Yesterday, the FSA advised that the credit crunch might get worse. Well, we all know that.

At the moment, the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee is closeted together trying to work out whether or not to reduce interest rates.

The simple answer is yes, by half a point.

Will they do it? The balance of opinion earlier this week was that they probably wouldn't cut, not even by a quarter point, but I can't believe they're that stupid.

At least the Americans are trying to do something; Fed Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke will probably cut another half point next week and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who learned his black arts at Goldman Sachs, is pushing very hard for a deal to rescue distressed US mortgage payers.

And he'll get one.

But will the UK escape?

Well, a recession is a racing certainty in the US, Merrill Lynch says it'll last all next year even if interest rates fall to 2%, and this column's prediction of one in the UK, starting in January, looks on the money as well.

Worse luck.

Yesterday, the Nationwide reported the sharpest monthly fall in consumer confidence to date in a survey it's been carrying out since 2004 and profits warnings among smaller quoted companies in catering and retail are coming thick and fast.

It's time for bodies like the Bank of England's Monetary Policy committee and the FSA to do rather more than mouth platitudes about how bad things might be.

London bets on a rate cut
The London FTSE 100 set off upwards like a startled rabbit this morning, as a slew of bad news persuaded traders that the Bank of England would indeed cut interest rates.

With the oil price still below $90 a barrel inflation isn't quite the ogre people thought it was a week ago.

The government isn't supposed to intervene in these decisions but it's pretty obvious what it would like to see happen (a load of mortgage repossessions won't do Gordon Brown's re-election hopes much good).

Get things right and it could be, "arise Sir Mervyn (and you can keep your job)".

Come on in, says Kitty Ussher
Ms Ussher is the Treasury minister in charge of the City, Ed Balls' old job.

She's been to all the right schools and colleges but never actually had a real job (at least Ed worked for the FT for a while, no laughing at the back).

Anyway, she said the other day that the UK was quite happy to have sovereign investment funds (who dispose of the huge energy profits enjoyed by numerous Middle Eastern states) and the Chinese, who enjoy a huge surplus in their trade with the West because they align their currency with the (sinking) dollar, to buy what they will in the UK.

As the Qataris almost did with Sainsbury's.

Well the stock market could do with a lift but flogging off our best companies to dodgy overseas owners looks a touch short-sighted.

But how would Ms Ussher know?

Stephen Foster is a former news editor of Campaign, former editor of Marketing Week and Evening Standard ad columnist. He is a partner in Editorial Partnership and writes the blog www.editco.net and Politics of the Media for Brand Republic.

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