Newspaper publisher Johnston Press has announced a three-year deal with its lenders to finance its £351m debt until September 2015.
The publication of the group’s annual results was postponed from 3 April until today pending finalisation of discussions with the banks.
However the lending facility has now been agreed and was announced alongside today’s results, which saw the group post a statutory loss of nearly £144m due to a write-down in the value of its assets.
The group’s underlying net operating profit in 2011 was £28.4m, down just over £2m or 7pc from the previous year.
Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: “We are very pleased to announce the completion of our refinancing which provides the Group with lending facilities to take it through to September 2015.
“This is due in no small measure to our efforts over the last three years to significantly reduce our net debt by over £125m, restructure our cost base, taking out over £90m of costs, and introduce strong revenue initiatives for the future.”
The deal will commit JP to repaying at least £70m a year in debt over the next three years.
Today’s figures showed that while the company had reduced its net debt from £387.m to £351.7m, its also spent £38.5m on debt interest payments.
Commenting on the future outlook Ashley said that newspapers would remain the company’s primary revenue stream “for many years to come.”
“Although the prospects for the economy remain downbeat in the short term, I believe we can return Johnston Press to being a growth business through the twin track approach of re-launching and revitalising our papers while simultaneously growing our websites, and taking full advantage of the opportunities created by technology and the changing media demands of our users to deliver innovative propositions,” he said.
Since Ashley’s arrival as CEO in November, the group has embarked on a major editorial shake-up which has seen the departure of some its most senior editors.
It has also announced that five of its daily titles will move to weekly publication next month as part of a relaunch of nearly all 170 of its paid-for newspaper titles.
In his chief executive’s statement, Ashley said it was clear the group must undertake “further radical change in its operations to be appropriately structured for the future.”
He said the relaunch programme would aim to be self-financing, with the prospect of cover-price increases for many of the new-look titles.
Ashley also confirmed plans for a series of new digital products based around niche areas of specific interest – dubbed the ‘Mumsnet’ vision by some commentators.
He said: “We have built a huge repository of valuable content from all our newspapers, held in a single database, all indexed with excellent metadata. The opportunity is therefore there to aggregate and publish this content around specific interest areas, creating new websites, and we will be launching the first of these in 2012.”
In his statement Ashley revealed that the number of staff employed by JP had fallen during the year by 668 to stand at 5,245 – a reduction in headcount of 11.3pc.
He said further efficiency measures were now under way, saying: “We aim to keep local editorial and local sales staff in the heart of the community, but increasingly centralise everything else.”
The company has recently announced plans to move its entire contact centre operation across England to Sheffield as well as closing a number of smaller newspaper offices over the past year.
But Ashley said the group’s internal reorganisation was not simply about costs, but about developing what he called a “simpler organisation more appropriate for its future needs.”
The statutory loss of £143.8m posted by the group today is due to a series of write-downs on so-called ‘non recurring items.’
These include the closure of the group’s printing presses in Leeds and the Isle of Man, which together resulted in a depreciation charge of £5.2m, and redundancy payments due to restructuring of £4.3m.
Overall revenues in 2011 fell from £398.1m in 2010 to £378.8m last year – a drop of just over 6pc.
However although print advertising revenues declined by 9.7pc over the course of the year, the group said revenues from newspaper sales, digital advertising and contract printing were all either unchanged or growing.