Johnston Press shares soar 16% as new investor lays out bold plans

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Johnston Press shares soared almost 16 per cent on Friday after a major new investor laid out plans to turn around the publisher.

It was the second day of gains for the stock which rose on Thursday after news that Christen Ager-Hanssen, whose private equity firm Custos owns the Swedish version of the Metro, had bought a five per cent stake in the 250-year-old publisher.

Johnston Press, which owns a host of titles including the i newspaper and the Scotsman, has been hurt by a long-term decline in print advertising revenues and has £220m of bond debt. 

Mr Ager-Hanssen said on Thursday that he would be able to “sort out” the debt and would “take the initiative” in dealing with the issue.

Investors had been spooked after credit agencies downgraded the company, having raised concerns about its ability to refinance the borrowing when it matures in 2019. 

 “I think we need to move quite quickly. This is something that will happen over the next six months,” Mr Ager-Hansen told the Telegraph.

He said he believed the company would be able to refinance at an interest rate of three per cent compared to 8.6 per cent it currently pays.

The investor also said he wants to use the company’s 32-million-strong online audience as a springboard to kick-start new ventures, as he did with the Metro in Sweden.

“Everyone looks at these media assets as very distressed, and yes they have been, but they need to move and get confident to kick-start new ventures and build strong balance sheets,” Mr Ager-Hanssen said. 

A spokesperson for Johnston Press said: “As a major new shareholder, and with his experience, we of course welcome a conversation with Christen and a meeting has been set up.

“As shown at the latest results, Johnston Press is showing some good signs of growth – digital revenues and the i success being two stand out points. We continue to work on the strategic review and are making progress.”

In March, Johnston announced a £300m loss for 2016 that included a writedown in the value of its newspaper titles.

Johnston Press shares closed up 15.8 per cent at 15.2p on Friday.


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