Ashurst advises i newspaper owner as it puts itself up for sale

Ashurst is advising multimedia publisher Johnston Press, which owns titles such as i newspaper, as it puts itself up for sale in response to financial struggles.

Corporate partner and The Lawyer Hot 100 2017 Karen Davies and global head of restructuring and special situations Giles Boothman are leading the sale and strategic review of the beleaguered company, which has been grappling to get its finances in order since March 2017, when it first started negotiations for the restructuring and refinancing of £220m worth of bonds.

Davies and Boothman are being assisted by junior restructuring partner Ru-woei Foong.

Former Clifford Chance associate Karen Davies quickly became one of Ashurst’s busiest corporate players last year. Having acted for services provider Xchanging while at her former firm, Davies saw the company through a highly-publicised bidding war in 2016 between Capita and eventual winner CSC.

Newspaper group Johnston Press runs nearly 200 regional titles, as well as i newspaper, the Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post. Its revenue slumped by 9 per cent over the first half of the year, amid a challenging trading market due to falling circulation, the introduction of new GDPR rules, consolidation within the industry and uncertainty around the cost of paper.

The decision has come after Johnston Press kicked off a strategic review last year.

Background to the sale

Ashurst and Scottish firm MacRoberts are listed as Johnston Press’ main advisers, with Karen Davies on call for the company over the last eight years. Two years ago, Davies led the Ashurst team when assets of the i newspaper were sold to Johnston Press for £24m. MacRoberts partner Alan Kelly worked on the terms of the acquisition.

The acquisition enabled Johnston Press to become the UK’s fourth biggest news publishing group. The pair also acted together on the company’s £360m capital refinancing plan in 2014.

Johnston Press’s sale come as little surprise, considering the current tough market for publishers following a decline in traditional and digital advertising revenues.

Dennis Publishing’s fortunes were revived in August when it was bought out by private equity firm Exponent for £166m. Travers Smith and Osborne Clarke advised in the deal, with Travers corporate partners Ian Shawyer and Lucie Cawood leading for Exponent.

Osborne Clarke partner Tim Hewens represented Dennis Publishing’s management team in the sale.

In 2015, Travers Smiths’ head of competition Nigel Seay advised Immediate Media on its £24m acquisition of a portfolio of cycling and  craft titles from Future Publishing, including Mountain Biking UK and Mollie Makes.

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