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News

Financial Times sale: Pearson in 'advanced discussions' with buyer

Pearson is in “advanced discussions” over a sale of the Financial Times, it said on Thursday. Reuters said the London-based FTSE 100 company had decided to sell FT Group to an unnamed global digital news company, according to a person familiar with the deal. The sale of the global financial newspaper, which was first published in 1888, could net Pearson as much as £1bn. Potential buyers previously linked to a move for the Financial Times include Axel Springer, Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg.

On his return to running his eponymous financial information company Mike Bloomberg replaced his long-time editorial chief Matt Winckler with John Micklethwait, the erudite former editor of the Economist. The appointment immediately revived rumours of a bid for the FT. Other potential buyers could include a billionaire keen to own a global brand such as the Financial Times. Pearson has long been said to have been considering a sale of the title, which is edited by Lionel Barber. Its former chief executive Marjorie Scardino once said the paper would be sold “over my dead body”.

But she has since been succeeded by John Fallon, who took up the post two years ago. After the last round of sale rumours in 2013, Fallon said the paper was “not for sale” and described the FT as a “valued and valuable part of Pearson”. In a statement, the company said: “Pearson notes recent press speculation and confirms that it is in advanced discussions regarding the potential disposal of FT Group although there is no certainty that the discussions will lead to a transaction.

 

“A further announcement will be made if and when appropriate.” The FT Group also includes a 50% stake in the Economist. Pearson is a world leader in educational publishing, from which it makes the bulk of its revenues. It has owned the Financial Times for nearly 60 years. Its shares were up 3% in early trading on Thursday to 1,237p. The FT has a global print and digital circulation of 720,000, according to the company’s latest interim results in February this year, with digital readers accounting for 70% of the paper’s total paying audience. Pearson said FT profits had tripled year on year, but the group does not break out the paper’s earnings from the wider FT Group. The FT Group is part of Pearson Professional which recorded adjusted operating profit of £106m last year on turnover of £1.2bn. In the last decade its print circulation has halved but its digital subscriber base has grown exponentially, up 21% year on year to 504,000 in the latest figures. Barber, an FT veteran of 30 years’ standing, has been the paper’s editor since 2005. A digital pioneer since he introduced a metered paywall on the paper’s website, he has nevertheless said there is plenty of life in the print product, unveiling a new-look paper last year. In an interview last September Barber said: “I’ve got probably one of the most privileged positions in journalism and I don’t plan to give that up any time soon.”