The publisher is said to be sizing up its local press rivals with a view to merging with one of them.
Speaking to the Telegraph after yesterday’s half-yearly results, Ashley revealed that JP’s laywers had been looking at “potential combinations” of regional press groups as a “desk exercise.”
The possible merger talks come after Trinity Mirror was said to be in discussions earlier this year with Local World about taking full control of the David Montgomery-run group, in which it already holds a 19.8pc stake.
Trinity Mirror is also understood to have been looking at a deal to buy Richard Desmond’s Express Newspapers titles.
JP chief executive Ashley Highfield, pictured, told the Telegraph: “The recent fall in our share price has made us crisper on what we’d be prepared to pay for things. All the mood music is there.
“Our lawyers have looked at a number of different combinations as a desk exercise and you could get it done. You might have to sell one or two things but for the most part there is not much overlap.”
Ashley said he was confident that mergers of local newspaper groups could pass regulatory hurdles.
And he added that JP could also seek smaller deals with other newspaper publishers using its £30m cash reserve.
The possibility of merger deals by the Johnston Press comes after yesterday’s result showed a 4.6pc fall in revenues and cost-cutting of £7.6m in the first six months of 2015.
The publisher said it had been hit by a “slowdown” in general trading from April to June, although July had seen some improvement.
A Johnston Press spokeswoman said the company did not want to comment further.