Shares of Next Media surged 16.4 per cent to 64 HK cents yesterday in a weaker overall market after the publisher of Apple Daily announced that "third parties" are eyeing its assets in Taiwan.
Next Media, under chairman Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, has been financially stretched by its expansion in recent years, especially by the television unit in Taiwan and the launch of a free newspaper named Hong Kong Sharp Daily in September last year.
Francis Lun Sheung-nim, managing director of Lyncean Securities, said: "It looks obvious that Jimmy Lai is ready to withdraw from Taiwan."
Next Media reported a loss of HK$1.17 billion in the television and multimedia operation segment in Taiwan for the fiscal year to March, compared with a loss of HK$459 million the previous year.
"Next TV in Taiwan is in the red and it is hard to find a buyer," said Lun, who speculates that Next Media will sell its print assets and close the TV unit.
The company's print stable in Taiwan includes Apple Daily, Sharp Daily and Next Magazine.
According to a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange after the market closed on Tuesday, Next Media has been approached by "independent third parties" interested in acquiring some of its assets. The English version said the parties approached Next Media for its "print media business and certain assets in Taiwan", but the Chinese version was more explicit, limiting the potential sale to only the group's Taiwan assets.
Next Media couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.
A few big wheels have been named by Taiwan media as potential buyers, including PCCW chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai, who is well known for big ambitions to become a media mogul, Taiwanese tycoon Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn Technology, and HTC's chairwoman Cher Wang.
Meanwhile, Taiwan-based Shanghai Commercial & Savings Bank has launched a HK$200 million three-year loan for Apple Daily, according to Instanter, an online publication covering news on Asian debt markets.
The deal was guaranteed by parent company Next Media and the money would be used as working capital, said Instanter.
Banks have been given until September 28 to express interest, although there is an early-bird fee of 0.2 percentage point for those that respond by September 21.
Apple Daily's average daily readership of people above 12 years old fell to 1.54 million in 2011 from 1.57 million the previous year. Its daily circulation slipped 11.8 per cent to 259,245 copies in the second half of 2011 from 293,892 copies previously.