Revenues At Independent News and Media (INM), the owner of The Belfast Telegraph, The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, fell almost 15 per cent last year during the worst advertising recession in living memory. But managers insisted yesterday that they were optimistic that the market had stabilised.
The publishing group also updated the market on the progress of negotiations to sell its two UK national newspapers to Alexander Lebedev, the Russian owner of the London Evening Standard, saying that an announcement was expected "very shortly". INM blamed the fall in revenues from €1.5bn (£1.3bn) in 2008 to €1.3bn last year on "extremely poor advertising markets". Yet it was keen to stress that the worst looked to be over because the market stabilised in the second half of 2009. Executives also pointed to market share advances in advertising and circulation, and hailed the stronger financial footing at the group.
Gavin O'Reilly, the chief executive of INM, said the trend of stability in underlying profits and advertising revenues had continued this year, and the group had seen growth in certain markets. "While it is still very early in the year, if these current trends continue, we would target an improvement in operating profit in 2010," he added.
Operating profits before exceptional costs fell by 39 per cent to €177.2m as INM's businesses suffered from the "extremely challenging" economic conditions. The group announced that it had cut costs in 2009 by 9.1 per cent to help battle the fall in revenues.
The board of INM said it was encouraged by significant announcements at the end of last year, especially after it landed a crucial deal to refinance its debts. In November it agreed new banking facilities, extending its debt maturity from 2010 to 2014. Mr O'Reilly said: "Following the successful conclusion to our complex financial debt refinancing in 2009, it is reassuring to be able to now look forward to 2010 where we will build on the underlying profitability and real progress that INM's operations achieved in 2008."
A series of asset disposals, including the advertising business INM Outdoor and interests in the bingo group Cascade and internet portal Verivox, raised €159m which was put towards slashing the company's debt by €367m. INM has also sold its 7.8 per cent stake in the Indian publishing company Jagran Prakashan for €41.4m this year.