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Johnston Press reports "solid" performance in six-month results

6 August 2014

Despite posting a £6.1m loss for the first six months of 2014, Johnston Press (JP) has put out an upbeat statement saying it has reduced debt and is increasing digital revenue.

The NUJ's group chapel has responded to the figures with a statement saying that after years of the staff bearing the brunt of the company's policy to cut jobs, with almost 1,600 going in the past two years, and freeze wages, now is the time to invest in editorial and to pay journalists a proper pay rise.

Ashley Highfield, Chief Executive, said:

"Johnston Press has delivered a solid first half performance. The results reflect our on-going progress against our strategic priorities as well as an improving economic climate, and demonstrate our continuing relevance to the communities we serve across print and digital. We are growing strongly in a number of categories, and reducing the decline in the rest, whilst continuing to bring down our cost base. As a result we are growing operating profits and margins."

Total advertising revenues fell 5 per cent, however this is an improvement compared to the 8.1 per cent fall in the same period last year. Print advertising revenues fell 9 per cent to £70.8m and circulation revenues fell 4.4 per cent to £39.7m.

JP reported that underlying operating profit margins grew to 20.9%, up from 19.3% last year.

The interim figures showed the group’s total audience grew to 25.6m across print and digital platforms, representing year-on-year growth of 14.3 per cent. Digital audiences grew to 15.9m unique users a month, representing the addition of 4.2m unique users year on year, an annual growth rate of 39.4 per cent.

Following a recent refinancing package, which raised £365m through the sale of bonds and shares, the group's net debt is £181.6m compared to £306.4m a year earlier.

Ashley Highfield said:

"We now have a third less debt with a markedly lower interest rate resulting in our annual interest payments reducing from over £36m to around £20m. This puts Johnston Press on a much more stable footing and allows us now to focus on returning to top line growth and a prosperous future."

The group's NUJ chapel said:

"These figures show that audiences are growing and the company has a healthy profit margin of more than 20 per cent. Although concerns remain about the company's financial health, it's time for Johnston Press to invest in alleviating the serious pressures facing its employees.

"Costs have been slashed following office closures, several rounds of redundancies and continued non-replacement of newsroom staff leaving the company. Staff have faced double-digit wage cuts in real terms in recent years after repeated pay freezes, and some are also struggling to make ends meet on insecure freelance contracts.

"Stress levels are high as dwindling numbers of staff produce ever-growing amounts of print and digital work.

"We call on Johnston Press management to think seriously about awarding a meaningful pay increase this year to start to compensate our members for their hard work which has led to more positive financial results."

Laura Davison, NUJ national newspapers organiser, said:

"The NUJ recognises that progress has been made in tackling debt levels and reducing interest payments, although these still remain high. Payments to those who advised on the refinancing also appear significant at more than £11m. Digital growth is encouraging but in monetary terms remains a relatively small part of the business. The money now released by the lower interest payments should be used to invest in editorial to alleviate immediate pressures and to recognise the efforts of staff during an extremely difficult period of cuts and redundancies."

Interim Results for the six months ended 28 June 2014

Tags: , johnston press, local newspapers, ashley highfield, finances, newspapers, profits, cuts