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What next for JP? CEO expects bids for prize assets – but top shareholder stays tight-lipped

The chief executive of Johnston Press has said that he expects to receive separate bids for some of the company’s prize assets even though its board would prefer to sell it in one piece.

The publisher of more than 200 local and regional titles, plus national daily the i, announced yesterday that it was putting itself up for sale after failing to put in place a deal to refinance its £220m debt pile.

JP’s board has made clear that its ideal outcome would to find a buyer for the whole company, which employs 2,141 staff across the UK.

But according to a report in the Irish Times. chief executive David King says he expects some bidders will move to break up the business.

He said: “There is a very strong likelihood that some people will attempt to bid for particular assets they have a particular interest in.

“We will obviously take that on board, consider those things.”

City analysts have valued the i at around £60m on the basis that it is on course to generate profits of around £12m this year.

It is also possible that some of the group’s major regional titles could attract separate offers from other publishers, although no bids are believed to be imminent.

Meanwhile the biggest shareholder in Johnston Press says he is “not surprised” by the company’s decision to put itself up for sale – but is staying tight-lipped on his next move.

Christen Ager-Hanssen, pictured, reiterated his criticisms of the regional publisher’s board following yesterday’s announcement, claiming they had been guilty of “running the company down the drain”.

However, when quizzed on what his strategy would be, Christen said he was not allowed to discuss it at this stage.

He previously said in March he was planning to adopt a “wait and see” strategy, instead of launching a planned boardroom coup which would have seen ex-Local World boss Steve Auckland become chief executive.

Reacting to Thursday’s announcement, Christen told HTFP: “I’m not surprised. This board hasn’t done anything to contribute any value to the company. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“They’ve been running the company down the drain, that’s why we wanted to remove them.”

Asked by HTFP on what his mext move would be following yesterday’s announcement, Christen said: “Because I’m the biggest shareholder I’m not allowed to talk about my strategy.

“I’d love to, but I can’t.”

Christen, whose Custos Group investment vehicle owns more than 20pc of JP, wrote to the company’s board in July over what he called “speculation among investors” about its future, claiming directors may be planning to place JP into administration.

At the time of Christen’s letter, the board said in a statement that it had not received “any plan or proposal from any party for a refinancing or restructuring” of its £220m debt.

10 comments

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  • October 12, 2018 at 4:23 pm
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    Of course it will be sold off in bits, they’ll get what they can for what ever they can flog off, no one in their right minds would buy the company as it is. Whatever happens there’ll be job losses galore and it’s those who are likely to be unceremoniously dumped just before Christmas I feel sorry for, those who’ve overseen the downfall and on who’s watch this has happened will walk away with golden handshakes laughing all the way to the bank leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

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  • October 12, 2018 at 11:56 pm
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    “on who’s watch”.

    Whose watch.

    The subs were the first to go 12 years ago.

    No golden handshake for us.

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  • October 13, 2018 at 11:16 am
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    The vast majority of the projected profit will be from the national titles, not the regional papers,so I can’t see any other publisher wanting to purchase locals with falling readerships and little advertising, yet I also can’t see anyone scooping up the entire group either.
    A real mess and a worrying time for the thousands employed by JP, I couldn’t care less what happens to the fat cats,they’ve allowed this car crash to happen and drawn big salaries whilst doing so ,but I do feel for the genuine workers who’ve carried on under trying conditions,who are laughingly being urged to ‘ carry on as normal’and who are likely to be the first to suffer the fall out.

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  • October 15, 2018 at 8:23 am
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    The Viking is totally correct. In my opinion this board have let the company wither on the vine with their crazy, unworkable, all eggs in one digital basket.

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  • October 15, 2018 at 9:08 am
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    A lot of really professional people who for one reason or another had to stay with JP have had to watch for years while incompetent management hastened the decline of some fine and historic papers. They will be the ones to suffer, not those at the top, who will walk away with a nice payout. I wish all those staff still with JP good luck, but the attempted sale just introduces more uncertainty.

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  • October 15, 2018 at 11:33 am
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    Roy Greenslades article is fine, but I’m not sure about the comment above.

    Should the reference to “managers” not be more explicit and refer to Board members? It’s not clear that many have been benefited as much as Board members being paid chunky salaries.

    As for investors – here’s what’s happened to the share price, and you would have to have been very lucky to have bought just before the spike and sold out before the price tumbled: https://www.hl.co.uk/shares/shares-search-results/j/johnston-press-plc-ordinary-1p

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  • October 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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    Streatham2. My mistake. I should have included the board. Some of the senior managers have been weak, not standing up for papers but protecting their jobs by meekly following the party line. People out there know who they are/were.

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  • October 15, 2018 at 2:33 pm
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    Streatham2 – there are lots of overpaid ‘managers’ – Editors who have big salaries with shockingly poor sales. You will find that many papers have too many ‘chiefs’ and very few ‘Indians’.

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  • October 15, 2018 at 9:32 pm
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    The JP management could not organise a p***up in a brewery. Over my 50 yrs in journalism I have come across many different management styles but, as I have previously said, the JP lot think of newspapers as if they were just a sale by date pot of jam. Makes me sick – and sad.

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