Johnston profits fuel hunt for more titles

By Hamish Mackay

Johnston Press has stepped up its hunt for newspaper aquisitions.

This follows record operating profits for 2004 of £177.2m – up 10
per cent, and pre-tax profits up 18 per cent to £150.6m, as reported in
last week’s Press Gazette.

The Edinburgh-based media company,
which climbed into the FTSE 250 when it bought Regional Independent
Media for £560m three years ago, has revealed that a 25 per cent cut in
debt to £328m provides an opportunity for a fresh purchase.

Chief
executive Tim Bowdler, although warning that “timing is everything”,
said: “We are very keen to make more acquisitions. We see consolidation
in this market and we want to play an active part in it.”

The company is also addressing circulation declines.

Daily/evening
paper sales were down 4.2 per cent during the six months to December
after stripping out bulk sales – no surprise in a generally declining
market, but of more concern was an 0.3 per cent drop in the sale of
weeklies despite a first half of growth.

Johnston is the UK’s
biggest publisher of weekly-paid for newspapers, with 119 of its 243
titles in that category However, Bowdler explained: “This was a quite
specific problem. A competitor launched a rival property supplement in
a number of towns.

However, it failed and we now have the market back.”

Bowdler’s
total remuneration in 2004 was £772,000 – £450,000 in salary, a
£300,000 performance related bonus, and £22,000 in taxable benefits.

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