Buzzards circle over Murdoch's trophy titles
Rupert Murdoch once said: "Our reputation is more important than the last hundred million dollars." And City observers are beginning to take him at his word.
As the scandal that swept away the 'News of the World' last week threatens the rest of News International, analysts reckon Mr Murdoch is preparing to offload his other UK titles.
Alex de Groote, an analyst at Panmure, said: "Given the iconic status of these titles and their collective profitability, outright closure now seems far-fetched." But he added a sale is now a "live possibility".
Any sale would attract both strategic buyers and "trophy hunters" after the rare opportunity of owning a historic Fleet Street publication.
The fierce independence of each of Murdoch's titles would mean they could be picked off individually. Richard Desmond, owner of the 'Daily Express' and the 'Sunday Express', is a likely contender for 'The Sun'. He also tried to enter the race to buy 'The Daily Telegraph' and 'The Sunday Telegraph' from Conrad Black's Hollinger Group in 2004, but experts said his interest was "unconvincing".
Alexander Lebedev, the Russian oligarch who bought the 'London Evening Standard' and 'The Independent' papers, yesterday spoke out against the Murdochs. He said: "I don't see what is the public good in allowing a big media empire to control fully BSkyB." Insiders say he would be "very keen" to buy one or more of the top-selling titles. The Daily Mail & General Trust has also been tipped as a potential buyer for 'The Times' and 'The Sunday Times'.