Axing 1,600 staff in two years helps Johnston Press deliver first 'underlying' profit growth since 2006

Regional press group Johnston Press today announced its first increase in full year "underlying" profit for seven years.
 
Operating profit actually declined in 2013 to £54.3m from £57m in 2012. But on an underlying basis, profit from ongoing businesses was said to be up by 2.5 per cent.
 
With advertising revenues down 6.4 per cent on an underlying basis and newspaper sales revenues down 4.5 per cent (2.1 per cent on an underlying basis) the profit increase was achieved by cutting costs.
 
Turnover was down 5.5 per cent on an underlying basis to £291.9m and by 15.6 per cent overall to £302.8m.
 
Johnston has axed nearly 1,600 staff in two years to the current total of 4,188 and last year it cut £33.8m out of its operating costs.
 
Restructuring costs and a write-down in the value of assets meant Johnston Press reported a statutory loss of £286.8m. 
 
Net debt for the group reduced by £17.3m to £302m. Although £33.1m was paid back much of that was spent on interest.
 
Johnston Press said: "Consumer confidence remained low in the first half of 2013, and this was reflected in advertiser spending, however the second half saw signs of improvement."
 
Digital audiences in January and February this year were said to be up 50 per cent year on year to 15m unique users a month.
 
Johnston revealed that it has signed up to the new Independent Press Standards Organisation press regulation system and also that, like Local World, it wants to have more user-generated content posted direct to its sites.
 
Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: "Using web-based editorial software the group is now allowing trusted contributors the ability to author content directly. If these trials are successful they will provide a blueprint for the group to restructure the editorial content gathering operations and greatly increase the volume of locally supplied material, ensuring we remain at the heart of our communities."
 
Commenting on the results Highfield said: "We are delighted to see a return to underlying operating profit growth for the first time in seven years, with underlying operating profits in 2013 increasing by 2.5 per cent on 2012. 
 
"Having delivered EBITDA of £62.7m in 2013, January and February has seen an 8 per cent increase in EBITDA year on year. Our digital growth remains strong, with significantly increasing audiences coming to our websites in 2013 and into 2014.  Along with slowing declines in print advertising revenues, and a stable circulation revenue decline rate, these are clear indications of good progress during the year in the implementation of our strategy for growth.
 
"During the year we completed the re-launch of our websites and our print titles, and took the first steps to re-invent community newspapers with significantly higher levels of user generated content. We invested further in technology to build our digital platforms, including launching DigitalKitbag, a one-stop-shop for digital marketing services aimed at the hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized enterprises that we already serve in print. With the benefits of our actions coming through, coupled with strong digital growth and a slowing print decline, the group is well positioned to make further progress in 2014."
 
He said: "We are on a clear journey to become the 'one-stop-shop' for advertisers and readers across all media in the communities we serve."

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