Belfast Telegraph

News Letter publisher's shares soar by over 70%

By Helen Cahill

Shares in News Letter publisher Johnston Press have soared amid speculation about its future, but the company has issued a statement saying it is unaware of a reason for the share price movement.

The publisher's shares spiked by more than 70% in afternoon trading, following reports suggesting the board might put the company into administration.

Johnston Press, which also publishes eight local titles in Northern Ireland, is trying to refinance its bonds, but said it had not received outside proposals for its debt restructuring and that no agreement on potential options had yet been reached.

In a statement, the company said: "The board of directors of Johnston Press notes the rise in the company's share price today and confirms that it knows of no operational or corporate or other reason for the price movement.

"The company continues to explore a number of strategic options for the restructuring or refinancing of its bonds and confirms that no agreement on these potential options has been reached."

The publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post said it had received a letter from Custos Group, which owns more than 20% of Johnston Press. The confirmation comes after it was reported that Custos Group, which is headed up by Norwegian entrepreneur Christen Ager-Hanssen, said there was speculation that Johnston Press was going to be put into administration.

Mr Ager-Hanssen reportedly wished to know whether Johnston Press' board was opting for a pre-pack administration, and said he was a prospective bidder for the business.

Johnston Press is looking at ways to refinance £220m of debt that becomes repayable in June next year. Golden Tree owns the majority of the debts owed by Johnston Press.

Johnston Press recently signalled a fresh round of cost-cutting, saying a challenging market has put pressure on revenues, which dropped nearly 10% over 2017.

This week Business Telegraph revealed that Belfast Media Group has put its print hall on the market, after outsourcing its printing to Johnston Press' Carn operation in Portadown last year.

The Hannahstown Hill print hall, which formerly printed the titles North Belfast News, Andersonstown News and South Belfast News, is on the market for £300,000.

The company said the closure of the print hall marked "the end of an era" but that it was confident the property could be put to good use.

Belfast Telegraph

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