Johnston Press sees advertising upturn as annual profits top £40m

Chief executive Ashley Highfield: 'Our vision remains constant ' to be at the heart of our communities'. Picture: Malcolm Irving
Chief executive Ashley Highfield: 'Our vision remains constant ' to be at the heart of our communities'. Picture: Malcolm Irving
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Johnston Press, the publishing group that owns The Scotsman, has delivered underlying profits of more than £40 million and said it will continue to invest in the business over the coming year.

Releasing results for the year to 30 December, the group also hailed an “exceptional” performance from the i daily newspaper and highlighted a 13 per cent hike in daily unique browsers for The Scotsman website.

Adjusted group underlying earnings came in at £40.1 million, compared with £43.9m in 2016 and in line with expectations. Total adjusted revenue amounted to £201.2m, down 4.5 per cent, though up 1.8 per cent excluding classifieds.

Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “Our vision remains constant – to be at the heart of our communities, providing accurate, relevant and timely news and information – free of proprietorial influence. And we continue to deliver on this, despite 2017 proving to be another tough year for the sector.

“Across our regional portfolio of titles national print advertising tracked in line with prior year in the first quarter of 2018, with advertisers starting to increase spend in regional print.

“This trend is driven by a somewhat stronger overall advertising market, our ability to precisely target audiences using ‘big data’, and improving sentiment towards quality print publishers in the wake of the fake news and social media trust concerns.

“Classified advertising remains weak, but is now a significantly smaller portion of the group accounting for just 13 per cent of revenues in the quarter, following our investment in digital and the i.”

On a statutory reporting basis, total revenue was £201.6m, down from £222.7m, almost £10m of which resulted from the sale of Midlands and East Anglia titles in January 2017.

The group, which also owns the Edinburgh Evening News, the Yorkshire Post and scores of local newspapers and websites, booked a statutory loss before tax of £95m, down by more than two-thirds on the £300.7m shortfall recorded a year earlier.

Net debt rose marginally to £141.7m as a result of the increase in the market value of the group’s bond.

Analysts at house broker Liberum issued a “buy” recommendation on the shares, noting: “Johnston Press reported numbers which were broadly in line with market expectations. The i delivered another stellar year and Q1 indications seem to be in-line with current market expectations.”