Pearson to sell Economist stake for £469m

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Publishing group Pearson has agreed to sell its 50 per cent stake in the Economist Group in a £469 million deal that will make Italy’s Exor, controlled by the Agnelli dynasty, its biggest shareholder.

The deal comes weeks after Pearson said it was offloading the Financial Times to Japan’s Nikkei for £844m, and will see The Economist move out of its headquarters in a prime central London location.

Pearson is selling the publications as part of plans to focus on its education publishing business and said it would use the proceeds of the sale to invest in this strategy.

It acquired its stake in The Economist in 1957 as part of its purchase of the FT, which had owned half of the magazine since 1929. The Economist’s history dates back to 1843, when it was founded by Borders-born businessman and politician James Wilson.

Pearson chief executive John Fallon said: “We have enjoyed supporting the company as it has built a global business, sustaining the excellence of its journalism and ensuring it is read more widely. We wish all our colleagues at The Economist every future success.”

The Economist said the deal would see new measures to safeguard its editorial independence.

Exor, which already owns a small stake, will directly pay £287m to increase its holding.

The remainder of the shares will be purchased by the Economist Group for £182m, effectively increasing the stakes of existing investors.

The group’s purchase of this stake will be partly financed by the sale of the office complex it owns, which includes its headquarters, in the St James area of central London – valued at around £150 million.

Economist chairman Rupert Pennant-Rea said new offices would be found “with more space for our digital ambitions and the needs of a 21st century media company”.