Johnston Press has announced strong performance from the i newspaper but group profits continue to decline

Lucy White
Revenues including the i but excluding classifieds rose by 4.6 per cent (Source: Flickr/osde8info)

Profits at embattled publisher Johnston Press have continued to decline, although lightweight newspaper the i put in a strong performance.

The numbers

Total operating profit for the first half of 2017 fell from £19.4m a year ago to £16.2m, a 16.8 per cent decrease.

However, revenues including the i but excluding classifieds rose by 4.6 per cent, as the newspaper pushed its own earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) up 745 per cent to £3.7m.

“Digital revenues (excluding classifieds) have outweighed the declines of print advertising revenues, helped by an editorial focus that has resulted in digital audiences at a record high and by a fantastic performance from the i newspaper which has achieved significantly enhanced performance during the sixteen months since acquisition,” said chief executive Ashley Highfield.

Yet group Ebitda was down 13.7 per cent to £19.7m as total revenues fell by 3.1 per cent.

Investors seemed keen to take the positives, as Johnston's share price shot up 3.36 per cent to 11.37p on the open.

Read more: Johnston Press boss Ashley Highfield on the i, Lebedev and the future of print media

Why it's interesting

Johnston bought the i in April 2016 from Evgeny Lebedev's group, which also owned The Independent. Since taking charge, circulation revenue has increased from £4.4m to £11m and advertising revenues are up from £0.8m to £3m.

The group's digital offering also generated a hike in advertising revenues of 14.8 per cent. Highfield said:

This is a business which we have long believed needed to transform, but once done, could return to growth. Thus, since 2012 we have been making the necessary and at times painful changes to transform Johnston Press into a truly cross-platform business.

Read more: Online-only Independent's revenues jump 75 per cent in year newspaper titles were closed

Johnston, which also owns The Scotsman, Northern Ireland's The Newsletter, The Yorkshire Post, The Sheffield Star and the Portsmouth News, sold 13 Midlands titles for £17m in January.

Soon after, it hired Rothschild and law firm Ashurst to begin a strategic review assessing its financing options in relation to £220m worth of 8.625 per cent loan notes, due for repayment in June 2019.

Johnston's largest shareholder, activist investor Crystal Amber, piled on the pressure over executive pay at the last annual general meeting. It has turned the spotlight on Johnston and kept it there, as it looks for more evident signs of a turnaround.

Read more: Johnston Press boss defends bond buybacks

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