Pearson denies FT is up for sale

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The Independent Online

The owner of the Financial Times was forced into taking the unprecedented step of denying reports that it is exploring a £1bn sale of the newspaper, according to reports that emerged last night.

Bloomberg reported that Pearson, the FTSE 100 education giant, may consider offers for the title this year, even before its long-serving chief executive, Dame Marjorie Scardino, stands down.

Scardino famously claimed that "over my dead body" would the FT be sold, but her successor, John Fallon, has merely said that the newspaper is a "valued and valuable" asset that must justify its place in the company's stable. Analysts expect the newspaper to be offloaded eventually by Fallon, who has led the drive to internationalise its dominant education arm.

But last night a Pearson spokesman said: "We have said many times that the FT is a valued and valuable part of Pearson. We are not in the habit of responding to rumours, speculation or reports about our portfolio, however this particular Bloomberg story is wrong. "

The FT Group, which includes the newspaper and a half share in The Economist magazine, increased profits by 27 per cent £76m last year. The title's full-price circulation in Britain is little more than 60,000 copies a day, although it has taken strides to sell more web subscriptions.

The potential significance of the report coming from Bloomberg is that the news wire is owned by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long been cited as a prospective buyer of the newspaper. Other interested parties could include Thomson Reuters, which has a large financial data business, and veteran media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire features the Wall Street Journal, the FT's closest rival.

Murdoch, who owns The Sun and The Times, was recently thwarted in his attempt to acquire Penguin from Pearson. The book publisher is being merged with Random House to create a new global books leader.

During Scardino's 16-year reign, Pearson has slowly sold off peripheral businesses and recycled the cash back into education assets. From being an American text book publisher, now it runs language schools in China and has added businesses in Brazil and South Africa as well as owning the Edexcel examination body in Britain.

However, it is unlikely that any sale talks are currently taking place and it is not thought investment banks have been taken on to handle a sale.