The German media giant which publishes Die Welt, one of Europe’s leading newspapers, has joined the race to buy The Daily Telegraph and its Sunday sister title.
Sky News can exclusively reveal that Axel Springer has registered its interest in acquiring the British broadsheets.
Insiders said the company, which also owns the Business Insider and Politico digital news platforms, had notified Goldman Sachs of its desire to participate in a forthcoming auction.
This weekend, it was unclear whether Axel Springer had retained its own advisers to work on a takeover bid for the Telegraph, or even if it planned to table a formal offer in a sale process expected to launch next month.
The emergence of its preliminary interest, however, intensifies the prospect of a full-blown bidding war for one of Britain’s most prominent media brands.
The Spectator, the weekly current affairs magazine, is also up for sale, having been part of the corporate structures seized by Lloyds Banking Group from their long-standing owners, the Barclay family, earlier this year.
It was unclear whether Axel Springer, which also owns the German newspaper Bild, has any interest in owning The Spectator.
Axel Springer was established by its eponymous founder in post-war Hamburg in 1946.
After his death in 1985, the company pursued an international expansion strategy which took it into other European markets such as Italy and Poland.
In 2004, Axel Springer was among the bidders for The Daily Telegraph in an auction eventually won by the Barclays.
The company is now 25%-owned by KKR, the US-based buyout giant, and is no longer a stock market-listed company.
Axel Springer’s potential bid for the Telegraph adds its name to a growing list of likely bidders.
They include Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail proprietor, who is in talks with Middle Eastern investors about helping to finance a bid.
Sir Paul Marshall, the hedge fund tycoon, has hired bankers from Moelis to advise on a rival takeover proposal, with Paul Zwillenberg, a former chief executive of the Daily Mail publisher, in talks to act as a consultant to him.
Ken Griffin, the Citadel hedge fund billionaire, is also expected to aid Sir Paul’s offer, according to reports this week.
Sir Paul, who is also a big shareholder in the right-wing television news service GB News, is said to be serious about his interest in owning the newspapers.
Other potential bidders include David Montgomery, the former Mirror newspapers chief, who is lining up Cavendish and Peel Hunt to help raise the financing to buy the broadsheet newspapers.
Sir William Lewis, a former Daily Telegraph editor, is also assembling an offer, while Daniel Kretinsky, a Czech-based businessman who owns big stakes in J Sainsbury and Royal Mail, is reportedly interested.
Sky News revealed last month that the Barclay family was also trying to line up hundreds of millions of pounds from Middle Eastern investors in a bid to wrest back control of the newspapers from Lloyds.
The family has lodged a series of proposals to buy back roughly £1bn of debt it owes the high street bank.
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.
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.
In July, 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 has been appointed chairman of Press Acquisitions and May Corporation, the respective parent companies of TMG and The Spectator (1828), which publish the media titles.