Support and fewer owners

Many dioceses want to give the ailing Catholic media group Weltbild a last financial helping hand. At the same time, the bookselling company will have far fewer shareholders in the future than before.

Insolvency of the media group in Augsburg – a spectre of the employees – has apparently been averted. The company, which recently slipped into the red, is to receive fresh capital of at least 60 million euros, according to media reports, partly also from departing shareholders.

At the same time, the 14 current owners, 12 dioceses as well as the Soldiers' Chaplaincy Berlin and the Association of German Dioceses (VDD), have lost share values of 130 million euros in a capital cut, according to the FAZ. In turn, the financial institutions, including the church banks LIGA and Pax-Bank, continued their business relations.

However, at least three owners, the dioceses of Augsburg, Bamberg and Wurzburg, do not want to continue to hold shares in the company – after all, they previously held a combined stake of almost 25 percent. At the same time, the Catholic Soldiers' Chaplaincy announced that it would continue to be a shareholder. The Eichstatt diocese declared "a fundamental willingness" to get involved with Weltbild.

According to media reports, the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising is also to be among the group's new owners. There is no confirmation of this so far. The dioceses of Regensburg and Passau do not wish to comment at present.

The diocese of Augsburg had already announced in October that it would provide 15 million euros in "liquidity assistance". Diocese of Wurzburg supports Weltbild with 3 million euros. In addition to a current aid of 1.5 million euros, it waives a shareholder loan already made available in the same amount. The Archdiocese of Bamberg did not give any figures.

Concern for employees

The diocese of Hildesheim, which is not one of the previous shareholders, is also participating in the financial injection, according to the "Augsburger Allgemeine" newspaper. Same plans Mainz, according to unconfirmed media reports. Hildesheim Bishop Norbert Trelle has declared his willingness "to help Weltbild," a spokeswoman told the newspaper. "It is important to the bishop that people keep their work."However, the diocese does not want to become a co-owner of Weltbild. However, at the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, no sums are mentioned at the moment.

The Catholic Soldiers' Chaplaincy in Berlin explained at the request of the KNA that "with a view to the presence of a company in the Catholic publishing sector, one stands for active participation in the circle of shareholders in order to position the company for the future".

Weltbild has "the reliable knowledge that the company is supported to the necessary extent by the shareholders," a company spokeswoman said. She also pointed out that the company had never made a secret of the need to transform into an online and digital business, and of the "current loss situation, which will continue in the medium term". A new medium-term financial plan for Weltbild should be available in the first quarter of 2014.

Works council still skeptical

Employee representatives pointed out that although the new capital would secure the Christmas business, further staff cuts were not off the table. They were concerned to see that Josef Schultheis, a reorganizer, had been brought into the company.di secretary Thomas Gurlebeck. At the end of October, the company announced plans to cut 140 jobs in customer service. Further entanglements could also threaten branches, he fears.

Weltbild works council chairman Peter Fitz said employees had not yet been informed by management about the obvious upcoming changes in ownership structure. In his view, the promised financial injection "has nothing to do with preserving jobs as a result". Managing Director Carel Halff has rather announced that every branch has to pay off.

According to the FAZ, there is an expert opinion from the auditing firm KPMG, which considers Weltbild to be fit for the future.

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