Johnston Press puts itself up for sale

Johnston Press has hoisted a ‘for sale’ over the business as it continues the strategic review it started last year.

The publisher said that since March 2017 it has “focused on exploring all options available to it” to find a solution to the repayment of £220m in high-yield bonds, which mature in June 2019.

In a statement published on the London Stock Exchange today (11 October), the group said: “Pursuant to this strategic review and in order to assess all strategic options to maximise value to its stakeholders, the board of Johnston Press announces today that it has decided to seek offers for the company.”

The business, which owns almost 200 regional newspapers including The  Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post, is using Rothschild bank to manage the process, which will look to sell the business as a whole entity.

There is speculation, however, that it is more likely rival publishers will look to acquire its most profitable assets – including the i newspaper, which Johnston acquired in 2016. The title posted a 61% increase in adjusted EBITDA to £6m in the group’s H1 2018 results.

Bidders for Johnston Press could include activist shareholder Custos Group, headed by Christen Ager-Hanssen, which already owns more than 20% of the business. In July Ager-Hanssen threatened the publisher with legal action if it were to opt for a pre-pack.

Johnston said it is not in discussions with any potential offerors or in receipt of any approaches at the time of this announcement. It will continue to update all stakeholders on the formal sale process and other aspects of the strategic review “as and when appropriate”.

Shares in Johnston Press fell by nearly 7% to 3.05p at the start of trading today but quickly recovered and stood at 3.39p at the time of writing, giving a market capitalisation of £3.46m.

The share price had fallen to an all-time slump in June, shortly after chief executive Ashley Highfield – now replaced in post by David King – departed the company.

A total statutory revenue of £93m and operating profit of £7.4m was recorded by the business in its H1 2018 results while net debt was reported at £140.2m.