Spanish media giant to get Anglo-American accent

Spanish media giant to get Anglo-American accent

29th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spanish media giant Prisa, best-known for its flagship newspaper El Pais, is about to fall under Anglo-Saxon influence with the entry into its capital and board of directors of American and British investors.

Madrid -- Spanish media giant Prisa, best-known for its flagship newspaper El Pais, is about to fall under Anglo-Saxon influence with the entry into its capital and board of directors of American and British investors.

Even if Prisa iteself denies it, the arrival of Nicolas Berggruen and Martin Franklin will represent a small cultural revolution for the heavily indebted group, which has been firmly on the political left since El Pais was founded in the 1970s following the end of the Franco dictatorship.

The appearance of these two "atypical" investors, familiar to Wall Street and who have made known their preference for companies in difficulty, has intrigued both markets and the media. This interest in no small part due to their offbeat personalities.

Franklin, 45, a Briton, is an ultra-sporty businessman whose "obsession" is running ten triathlons a year.


This photo shows a shareholders meeting for Spanish media giant Prisa in Madrid last year.

His business partner, the US-German Berggruen, 49, son of an art collector, has been called the "homeless billionaire" by The Wall Street Journal due in part to his life spent between jets and palaces.

The complex financial operation, which should be concluded by the end of the year, will see an injection of USD 870 million (about EUR 620 million) into the group, a Prisa spokesman said. But he emphasized it will not mean any loss of independence.

Berggruen and Franklin "have repeatedly said they do not get involved in management and that their investment was financial," he said.

Franklin himself told the French newspaper Le Monde in October, which is itself owned 15 percent by Prisa, that the deal was "a financial investment,  not at all a political one."

Markets are excited by the operation, which was announced in March and then modified in August to reflect a fall in Prisa stock, viewing it as a financial rescue.

"Prisa was in financial trouble, with very few alternatives, they needed capital to face a very high level of debt," a Spanish analyst said on condition of anonymity.

Prisa, the leading Spanish and Portuguese-language media group, has interests in the press, television, radio and digital platforms in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. But it is burdened with nearly EUR 5.0 billion in debt.

Faced with the arrival of the Anglo-American duo, who are leading a group of investors including the Goldman Sachs bank, many wonder about the future role of the current controlling shareholder, the family of Prisa founder Jesus de Polanco.

Polanco's son Ignacio took over as chairman after his father died in 2007.


CEO of Spanish Prisa publisher house and owner of El Pais newspaper leaves with unidentified persons the headquarters of Le Monde.

"This deal is good news but it is accompanied by a massive dilution" on the part of the Polanco family, whose stake will drop from 70 percent to 35 percent, or even 18.4 percent eventually and under certain circumstances, said Adrian Zunzunegui, analyst for the brokerage firm Iberian Equities.

"The control by the (Polanco) family could eventually be called into question," said Zunzunegui.
Prisa iteself has no such fears.

"The Polanco family specifically said it wanted to maintain control," said the Prisa spokesman, adding that a special financial mechanism exists to ensure it stays above 30 percent.

But an analyst said the exact contribution of this "financial duo" remains an "unknown" for Prisa.

One thing is certain though -- CEO Juan Luis Cebrian, who has been at the helm of the group for 20 years, announced he would stay in office another three years. 

Olivier Thibault / AFP / Expatica

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