The publisher of the Daily Mirror is in preliminary talks about investing in the Daily Express with its owner Richard Desmond, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trinity Mirror, which publishes newspapers at the opposite end of the political spectrum to the Express, was considering options including taking an equity stake in its rival, one person familiar with talks said.
The company confirmed that it was evaluating “certain . . . assets” owned by Mr Desmond’s holding company Northern & Shell.
“There is no certainty that any agreement will be reached in respect of the range of outcomes currently under consideration,” it said in a stock market announcement.
Express Newspapers declined to comment.
Mr Desmond has sought more than £100m for the title and its sister paper the Sunday Express, close to the £125m he paid for it in 2000.
A deal would be a rare instance of national newspaper consolidation. Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum, said it would make sense “both on the cost side and in giving Trinity greater scale and leverage with national advertisers”.
However, he warned that there were uncertainties around Express Newspapers’ pension deficit.
The Financial Times reported in December that Mr Desmond, a one-time pornographer, was exploring a sale of his group’s main titles. He sold Channel 5 for £465m last year to US group Viacom, and people close to him have suggested that his interest in his media assets has lessened.
The negotiations with Trinity Mirror are not thought to include his entertainment magazines, including OK. The talks were first reported by The Times.
Express Newspapers, including the Express and Star titles, made a pre-tax profit of £30.4m in 2013, about half from interest repayments on loans from other companies owned by Mr Desmond. Revenues fell more than 8 per cent that year, but the company has kept a tight grip on costs, not offering journalists pay rises since 2008 and implementing several rounds of redundancies.
Trinity Mirror, which is involved in a civil trial for alleged phone-hacking offences, has increased its financial flexibility sharply under chief executive Simon Fox. Net debt fell from £78m to £19m in the course of 2014. Operating profits fell slightly to £105m.
Both the Mirror and the Express were relatively slow to invest in digital audiences, compared with the Daily Mail. While the Mirror’s audience has grown rapidly in recent months, the Express has failed to find significant traction.
Mr Fox suggested at Trinity Mirror’s annual results that the company could invest in digital start-ups, although high valuations are likely to prevent any significant deals.
Get alerts on Reach PLC when a new story is published