Johnston to press on with expansion

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Johnston Press, the rapidly growing newspaper group, remains committed to expanding further in the rapidly consolidating regional market, despite the pounds 205m acquisition of Emap's 65 titles announced earlier this year.

"We expect further consolidation, and we are always looking for opportunities," Tim Bowdler, managing director, said yesterday, announcing the group's interim profits.

He added that the Emap acquisition, finalised on 1 July, was already being integrated into the group and that none of the titles would be closed or sold.

Despite the commitment to growth by acquisition, Mr Bowdler warned: "We will only do what we can afford to do, and we will not be going back to our shareholders." The Emap purchase was largely financed by a rights issue. He added that the company would acquire titles in areas that fitted geographically, and all but ruled out buying the southern newspapers put up for sale on Tuesday by United News & Media.

In additional to small independent groups, several mid-ranking newspaper companies, including Portsmouth and Sunderland and Southern Newspapers, may soon be on the block, analysts believe.

Yesterday's interims from Johnston, the last set of results before it begins to consolidate the Emap titles, saw pre-tax profits rise 55 per cent to pounds 12.6m, including exceptional gains on the sale of Bury Press to rival Newsquest in the period. Underlying profit growth was about 10 per cent, with operating margins ahead two points to 26 per cent.

Mr Bowdler said the period had been "patchy," and that advertising revenue had been dull, with volumes up just 2 per cent and revenues up 4.9 per cent.

A disappointing result from the bookselling division had been expected, due to the collapse last year of the Net Book Agreement and a decline in purchases by local libraries.