Saturday 21 October 2017

Johnston puts its 14 Irish newspapers up for sale

Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

TROUBLED UK media giant Johnston Press has put its 14 Irish newspapers on the market, the 'Irish Independent' has learned.

The titles for sale include the 'Leinster Leader', the 'Kilkenny People', the 'Nationalist', the 'Limerick Leader', the 'Tipperary Star' and the 'Tallaght Echo'.

The group's printing presses in Limerick and Kilkenny are also understood to be covered by the sale, which is being carried out by Dublin-based Raglan Capital.

The total package is expected to fetch upwards of €70m, leaving Johnston Press with a hefty writedown on the estimated €250m it spent compiling its Irish portfolio.

A bulk sale of all the Irish assets is understood to be Johnston's preferred method of exiting the local market; however, the group is also open to selling key newspapers on an individual basis.

Johnston acquired the bulk of its Irish interests in 2005, when it bought the Leinster Leader Group for about €140m.

The UK publisher also bought the Northern Ireland-focused Local Group in the same year; however, the Northern papers are not believed to be included in the current sale process.

The retention of an agent to sell Johnston's Irish assets comes as Johnston's newly appointed chief executive, John Fry, prepares to unveil a new group strategy on March 5, along with the company's annual results.

The strategy is expected to include the sale of 'non-core' assets, including the business in the Republic of Ireland and possibly Johnston's Northern Ireland interests.

Other elements of Mr Fry's plans are understood to include further investment in Johnston's internet business, and plans to merge printing and other facilities with rival newspapers groups in the UK.

With 18 daily newspapers in the UK, including the 'Scotsman' and 300 weekly newspapers as well as several specialist publications, Johnston has grown rapidly in recent years to become the UK's second largest newspaper group.

As it expanded, Johnston incurred massive debts prompting a fundraising exercise last May which saw the group raise €212m by selling a 20pc stake of the business to Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan in a deeply-discounted rights issue.

Johnston's last results, released in November and covering the 44 weeks to November 1, showed a 15.5pc fall in advertising revenue, accelerating a 9.5pc drop in the first half of the year.

Net debt at November 1 stood at £465m.

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