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Johnston Press reports slump in revenues after Brexit uncertainties

Newspaper publisher Johnston Press has reported a slump in full-year revenues, as Brexit-related uncertainties outweighed a modest recovery in year-end sales.

The group, which publishes the i, the Yorkshire Post and the Scotsman, said that revenues for the year to December 31 fell 6%, following a period of "difficult trading" after the EU referendum when revenue dropped 5%.

However, overall revenue rose 1% during the final three months of the year thanks in part to improving business confidence.

Johnston Press said digital advertising revenues excluding classifieds rose 1% over 2016, but that increase failed to offset the drop in print ads which sent total ad revenues lower by 7%.

Full-year circulation revenues rose 11% and were bolstered by growing pick-up of the i, which has increased its market share from 17% to around 20% since being acquired by Johnston Press in April 2016.

When excluding the i, circulation revenues fell 9%.

Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: "Despite the challenging print market, including a very difficult summer prompted by Brexit-related uncertainties, we have seen some improvement in our markets during the fourth quarter."

However, the company is expecting further headwinds as the industry continues to grapple with falling advertising revenues and print circulation.

The post-referendum collapse of the pound has also increased the cost of imported paper and ink, piling price pressure on publishers.

Sterling has fallen nearly 18% against the US dollar and around 10% against the euro since the Brexit vote.

Mr Highfield said: "Whilst we expect the overall market environment to remain challenging for both the group and the industry as a whole, we remain focused on delivering on our strategic priorities of growing our overall audience, driving the further success of the i newspaper, delivering a more efficient editorial and sales operation and strengthening the balance sheet."

The trading update did not account for a recent deal that saw Johnston Press offload 13 of its East Anglia and East Midlands titles to Iliffe Media for £17 million.

The titles sold included the Bury Free Press, Grantham Journal, Spalding Guardian and Stamford Mercury.

Johnston Press saw its chairman Ian Russell step down in December due to an "acute illness" in the family. Senior independent director Camilla Rhodes has since taken the helm as interim chairman.

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