The former owners of The Daily Telegraph have lined up hundreds of millions of pounds from Middle Eastern investors in a bid to wrest back control of the newspaper from Britain’s biggest high street bank.
Sky News can exclusively reveal that the Barclay family lodged a proposal last week to buy back roughly £1bn of debt it owes Lloyds Banking Group.
City sources said it was the latest – and richest – in a series of offers the family has put to Lloyds since the Telegraph’s holding company was placed into receivership in June.
This weekend, insiders said the Barclays had secured financing from unnamed Gulf backers who are said to be based in Abu Dhabi.
The proposal to Lloyds offered to buy back the family’s debt for between £500m and £600m – a substantial discount to the full value of the loans, according to one source.
The bank is understood to have rejected the Barclays’ bid, and intends to pursue a full auction of the daily newspaper, its Sunday sister title and The Spectator magazine, whose parent company was also placed into receivership.
A formal sale process, run by the Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs, is expected to kick off in the autumn.
The Barclay family’s latest offer underlines, however, its determination not to permanently lose control of the media group it took control of in 2004.
Lloyds had been locked in talks with the Barclays for years about refinancing loans made to them by HBOS prior to that bank’s rescue during the 2008 banking crisis.
Until June, the newspapers were chaired by Aidan Barclay – the nephew of Sir Frederick Barclay, the octogenarian who along with late brother Sir David engineered the takeover of the Telegraph 19 years ago.
In recent months, Sir Frederick has been embroiled in an acrimonious £100m court battle over his divorce settlement.
The Barclays previously owned the Ritz hotel in London, and still own Very Group, the online retailer.
Sky News revealed earlier in the summer that the family had also instructed bankers to sell Yodel, the parcel delivery group it owns.
Houlihan Lokey, the investment bank, is advising the Barclays on their efforts to regain ownership of the newspapers.
A source said this weekend that the Barclays were adamant that their proposal to buy back the Lloyds debt offered the bank a “clean” solution that would avert any regulatory probe that might be triggered by another media group buying the Telegraph.
Among those interested in a deal is Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail proprietor, who Sky News revealed a fortnight ago is also talking to Middle Eastern investors about backing a bid.
A sale for £600m, or anywhere close to it, would trigger a substantial writeback for Lloyds, which wrote down the value of its loans to the Barclays several years ago.
Nevertheless, a deal financed entirely by overseas investors could trigger other concerns relating to media ownership, particularly with the traditionally Conservative-supporting Telegraph titles being sold in the year before a general election.
Charlie Nunn, Lloyds’ chief executive, said last month that he saw no need to run “a rushed sale process”.
“We’ve given the receivers the complete freedom to run a process with the right diligence and, from our perspective, to ensure the process is run well from a UK perspective and maximise the returns for our shareholders,” he said.
Other potential suitors for the Telegraph titles inclde National World, the regional newspaper publisher headed by David Montgomery, the industry veteran.
The hedge fund tycoon Sir Paul Marshall – who is also a big investor in GB News – and Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky are also possible bidders.
Last month, Telegraph Media Group (TMG) published full-year results showing pre-tax profits had risen by a third to about £39m in 2022.
A successful digital subscriptions strategy and “continued strong cost management” were cited as reasons for the company’s earnings growth.
“Our vision is to reach more paying readers than at any other time in our history, and we are firmly on track to achieve our 1 million subscriptions target in 2023 ahead of our year-end target,” said Nick Hugh, TMG chief executive..
The sale will be overseen by a new crop of directors led by Mike McTighe, the boardroom veteran who chairs Openreach and IG Group, the financial trading firm.
Mr McTighe was recently named as chairman of Press Acquisitions and May Corporation, the respective parent companies of TMG and The Spectator (1828), which publish the media titles.
On Saturday, spokespeople for the Barclay family and Lloyds both declined to comment.