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Johnston Press signals intent as revenue and profits rise

Johnston Press has announced its results for the year, and signalled its intention to expand.

The regional press publisher, which owns 241 local newspapers and runs 160 community websites, recorded a 15 per cent increase in turnover, which rose to £491.8m, and a 38 per cent boost to pre-tax profits, reaching £128m.

Cash generation, revenue and profit all rose to record levels last year, and the group’s share price rose by 26 per cent.

Company chairman Roger Parry hailed the progress made during the year ending December 31, and said in his report: “The success of Johnston Press is built upon an unwavering commitment to serve local communities by the provision of news, information and entertainment.

“Through our publications and websites, we aim to provide compelling content to every section of the community: be they young or old, at home or at work and whatever their range of interests.

“We aim to be the premium provider of print and on-line information in all of our chosen local markets.”

Investment in 2003 went into enhancing presses, systems, processes and the publishing portfolio through more colour printing, using new technology to speed up the process by which publications get to readers, and by improving functionality and content of the websites.

Roger said: “We have been rewarded by an increase in the circulation of our core weekly titles of 1.3 per cent, which is the seventh consecutive year we have seen circulations rise and by a very substantial increase in website use.”

He added that the company was on the look-out for suitable ways to expand.

He said: “We continue to very actively seek acquisition opportunities that would mesh with our existing portfolio of businesses and to pursue organic growth through a range of new in-print and online initiatives.”

But he warned the legislation might curb future growth.

He said: “All the evidence suggests that the consolidation of ownership in the regional press in the UK has produced substantial benefits for both readers and advertisers. It is important, therefore, that the Government and competition authorities do not stand in the way of future consolidation where there are demonstrable benefits.”

And chief executive Tim Bowdler said in his annual report: “Although no acquisitions were completed during 2003, the Group remains keenly focused on the achievement of continued acquisitive growth in the UK regional press.

“With a market share of less than 15 per cent, we believe that Johnston Press can expect to grow further, even if over 70 per cent of the sector is now in the ownership of the four largest regional newspaper publishers.

“We closely monitor industry developments but will remain selective in those opportunities which we choose to pursue.”

The group’s daily papers portfolio, which includes the Yorkshire Post, Shields Gazette, Halifax Courier, Peterborough Evening Telegraph and Lancashire Evening Post suffered a modest but “stubborn” decline in circulation, although the Blackpool Gazette continued to grow.

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©NEP 2004