Johnston Press Publishing Journalism

Johnston Press chief 'confident' as revenue falls, profits rise and net debt drops by £125m in H1

By Angela Haggerty | Reporter

August 6, 2014 | 5 min read

Johnston Press has cut its net debt by £306.4m to £181.6m following a refinancing package earlier this year, according to its half-year results.

Results: Johnston Press has released its H1 figures

While revenues dropped from £141.9m to 135.8m year-on-year profits were up by £27.3m to £28.3m, and the regional publisher’s digital audience and revenue also grew.

Digital advertising revenue increased from £11.4m to £14.1m year-on-year, while its digital audiences grew by 39 per cent to 15.9 million monthly unique users. Visitors coming from mobile devices jumped by 88 per cent to 6.7 million. Digital revenues now represent 16.5 per cent of total advertising revenue.

Ashley Highfield, chief executive, said: “During the first half of 2014 we successfully delivered our capital refinancing plan, where we raised £225m through a bond issue and £140m through a placing and rights issue, allowing us to pay down our historic debt.

“We now have a third less debt with a markedly lower interest rate resulting in our annual interest payments reducing from over £36m to around £20m. This puts Johnston Press on a much more stable footing and allows us now to focus on returning to top line growth and a prosperous future.”

Highfield added that effects from the economic upturn were now being felt more broadly across the country. Johnston Press owns local titles in Scotland as well as national paper the Scotsman.

“The economy is continuing to improve and the ripple-out effect from London and the South East is beginning to show in the numbers in Scotland Yorkshire and Northern Ireland.

“We have also seen a growth in a number of national advertising sectors such as telecom, finance, travel and grocery.”

Johnston Press has been trying to reduce its massive debt and losses from the decline of the newspaper industry while trying to build up its digital presence and services.

In April, the publisher announced the sale titles in the Republic of Ireland to Iconic Newspapers for £7.2m, after having bought the titles originally for £115m nine years earlier.

Then in May, Johnston Press announced a £360m refinancing package designed to ease its debt burden and free up the ability to invest in the business. The publisher also announced a deal with BskyB for its AdSmart service, and the broadcaster took a 1.6 per cent stake in the company with a £5m investment.

Moving forward, Highfield said he was “confident” the business was meeting its planned strategy and would continue to.

“There is a real momentum gathering pace within the Group, with innovation and creativity at the heart of new launches during H1, including our latest digital jobs offering Smartlist for Engineers, our ground breaking partnership with Sky, a re-launched WOW24/7 national what’s-on entertainment website, the coming out of Beta of Digital KitBag, the Scotsman Scottish Referendum website, the relaunch in print and online of The Yorkshire Post, and brand new football apps for our major premier league and championship titles.”

Johnston Press has faced heavy criticism in recent years following heavy staff cuts. Nearly a quarter of its workforce was laid off between 2011 and 2012, and the publisher was recently slammed by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) over “disastrous” plans to axe all staff photographers at its Midlands and Scottish titles.

Also in the first half of the year, Johnston Press hired former Boston Globe VP of digital products Jeff Moriarty as chief digital and product officer. While Johnston Press digital titles are freely available to the public at the moment, Moriarty said in April that paid content would be “very much in his mind” moving forward.

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