Belfast Telegraph

Scotsman, i and Yorkshire Post publisher slumps to £300m loss

The owner of the i newspaper and the Yorkshire Post has cheered signs of a welcome recovery after it slumped into the red with annual losses of more than £300 million.

Johnston Press, which also publishes the Scotsman and 200 local titles, revealed the impact of tumbling print advertising revenues and £344 million of writedowns on the value of its newspapers as it swung to a pre-tax loss of £300.3 million last year against bottom-line profits of £2.2 million in 2015.

But the group said there were shoots of a recovery, with underlying revenues rebounding from a 5% fall in the third quarter to a 1% rise in the final three months of last year.

It added: "Against an industry backdrop which remains challenging, we delivered improved trends in the fourth quarter which have continued into 2017."

The full-year figures laid bare the impact of a tough year for publishers, with Johnston blaming the Brexit vote fallout for compounding already difficult trading.

The group also reiterated that the pound's slump since the EU referendum had sent its costs soaring for imported paper and ink.

It said last year's hefty writedowns - £223.9 million of which was reported in August and a further £120.4 million at the year-end - reflected the "current trading performance" of the group.

Revenues slumped 8% to £222.7 million last year, with total advertising revenues hit the hardest - tumbling 17.7%.

More recent trading has given hope of a better year, with digital ad revenues, which had fallen by 0.2% last year, up 10% in the first quarter so far excluding classifieds.

Newspaper print circulation has also improved, with the i newspaper - bought by the group for £24 million in April last year - seeing a 2.8% rise in the first quarter of 2017 so far against a 5.1% slump a year earlier.

The Scotsman's circulation was also higher, up 4.7% against a 14% tumble a year earlier, while the Yorkshire Post has narrowed declines to 8.5% from 9.3% a year ago.

Johnston chief executive Ashley Highfield said: "Despite an industry-wide backdrop of significant downward pressure on revenues, the actions we have taken to pilot the business through this rapidly-changing market and create the conditions from which to create growth are starting to bear fruit."