200-year-old UK book firm Clays flogged to Italian giant – but owner must make up multi-million pound pension shortfall

Oliver Gill
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Frankfurt Book Fair 2013
Clays is based in Bungay, Suffolk – its operating base will continue to be owned by St Ives (Source: Getty)

Clays, a British book production firm with a history dating back more than 200 years, was today swallowed by Italian printing giant Elcograf in a deal worth £23.8m.

The firm, a market leader in the UK which produces books for clients including Penguin Random House and Bonnier, is being sold by marketing firm St Ives.

The London-listed firm is disposing of Clays as it shakes-up operations and strengthens its balance sheet.

St Ives has agreed to plug a gap in its pension scheme, making a £2.5m contribution to cover liabilities relating to Clays workers. The firm will also hang onto the freehold of Clays' operating site in Bungay, Suffolk, leasing the site to Elcograf.

While the price tag is a significant discount to Clays' gross assets of £34.9m, the firm made a £1.6m loss during the year to July 2017.

Elcograf is the "absolute leader of the press in Italy", employing 900 staff across six factories.

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Shares in St Ives rose almost seven per cent in morning trading.

"Today’s sale of Clays is a major milestone for St Ives, which will allow our senior management team to focus entirely on growing the group’s strategic marketing businesses, both in the UK and internationally," said St Ives chief executive Matt Armitage.

"Over fifty years ago, St Ives was founded as a print business. But as our markets and customer preferences changed, we too evolved, reducing our exposure to the commoditised print markets while embracing the digital world, becoming a leader in the marketing services industry through acquisition and organic growth.

"This transformation began in 2010 and, following the recently announced disposals of our legacy print businesses, we are now a more focused strategic marketing group, well equipped to deliver the exciting next stage in St Ives’ evolution."

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