GMG’s review could see sale of Autotrader

THE owner of the Guardian newspaper and a private equity group are considering selling the business behind car buyers’ magazine Auto Trader for £2bn, it emerged yesterday.

Guardian Media Group (GMG) and Apax Partners are understood to have begun work on a strategic review that could lead to the disposal or flotation of Trader Media Group (TMG).

Apax acquired a 49.9 per cent stake in Trader Media group (TMG) from GMG in March 2007, which valued TMG at £1.35bn.

GMG has owned TMG for several years, either solely or in partnership with others. As well as the flagship publication Auto Trader, the business also includes titles such as Boat Trader and Farmers Trader.

Apax and GMG are believed to have held early-stage talks with several banks including Moelis, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan, according to a Sunday newspaper.

No-one from Apax Partners was available to comment, but a GMG spokesman said: “Trader Media Group is a very strong business and well advanced in its digital transition, which makes it a valuable asset for GMG.

“No decisions have been made about either the timing or nature of our exit from this investment.”

It is thought the appointment of a bank could lead to a sale or float as early as next year or in 2012, but a dividend re-capitalisation could also be an option.

The strategic review is thought likely to consider four possibilities: a sale, a float and two dividend re-cap options.

The dividend recap could either see up to £300m more debt added to the group’s balance sheet or the introduction of a third private equity investor which may purchase a stake of up to 40 per cent from Apax and GMG.