Johnston Press hails digital growth as profits rise

MEDIA group Johnston Press, publisher of The Scotsman, has hailed strong growth in its digital revenues after posting its ­second consecutive rise in ­annual operating profits.

Ashley Highfield. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The firm also secured a five-year “multi-million-pound” deal to print titles for Express Newspapers at its site near Sheffield.

Underlying operating profits at the Edinburgh-based group, which also owns the Edinburgh Evening News, Scotland on Sunday and a host of websites, rose 2.8 per cent to £55.5 million for the year to 3 January, while net debt fell to £184.6m – down from £302m a year earlier.

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Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “We are excited about the future for the business and confident of delivering on our strategic objectives of growing an engaged audience base and returning our business to top-line growth.”

He said the firm’s lower debts would “allow us to increase the investments we make in our business in order to deliver on our strategic objectives, while continuing to pay down debt”.

Total underlying revenues dipped 4.4 per cent to £265.9m during the year. Digital revenues soared 20 per cent to £28.8m and now account for 17.4 per cent of advertising revenues.

Digital audiences grew by 35.8 per cent to an average of 16.7 million a month, 40.7 per cent of which are accessing the group’s online content via ­mobile devices.

Analysts at Numis described yesterday’s results as a “solid set of numbers” for Johnston Press, which is eyeing a resumption of dividend payments “as soon as is appropriate”. Last June, it completed a refinancing exercise that raised £140m through a share placing and rights issue, along with £220.5m through the issue of bonds. It also agreed a new £25m revolving credit facility, which remains undrawn.

Chairman Ian Russell said: “The refinancing allowed us to exit from our previous borrowing arrangements – lengthening the duration of our borrowing facilities, significantly reducing the company’s financing costs and removing the operational restrictions which those facilities imposed.”