Johnson Press to stay in market despite falls

REGIONAL newspaper operator, Johnston Press saw advertising revenues at its Irish operations fall by nearly 33% – in local currency terms – last year, but is still not ready to re-visit attempts to sell out of the market.

Advertising revenues at the Scottish group’s Irish division fell by 25% in sterling terms, last year, to £14.4 million, but by 32.8% in euro terms. In Britain, Johnston’s ad revenues fell by 26.5% to just under £258m.

Johnston failed in its attempts to sell its Irish newspapers last year after it failed to attract a favourable offer. Although it has since closed two printing presses – one here and one in Scotland – and disposed of the Tallaght Echo, management said yesterday that “no further sales are being contemplated”.

The group’s latest set of full-year results, published yesterday, showed a 56.2% fall in pre-tax profit to £43.3m, a 44.1% decline in operating profit to £71.8m, a 19.5% fall in revenue to £428m and a 58.8% drop in earnings per share to 5.53p.

Johnston’s chairman Ian Russell called 2009 “an extremely difficult trading year” for the company – which owns 12 newspapers here, most of which were acquired when it took over the Leinster Leader group five years ago.

“The recessions in the UK and Republic of Ireland have had a dramatic effect on advertising revenues. Although, conditions remain tough, the past year has seen a measure of stability returning to the markets in which we operate,” Mr Russell said.

Group chief executive John Fry added to the tentative upbeat tone by saying: “The year ended with the group in a much stronger position than it began. Advertising is more stable, circulation trends have improved, digital revenues are growing, our cost base has reduced significantly and we’ve re-negotiated finance facilities for three years.

“We’re, therefore, well-positioned to take advantage of any upturn as it occurs. Since the successful refinancing of our debt, announced at the end of August, we’ve been trading in line with the expectations we had at the time.”

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