After almost six decades of stewardship of one of Britain’s most storied institutions -- the Financial Times -- Pearson Plc is selling the business daily to Japan’s biggest financial news group.
The London-based publishing company on Thursday said Nikkei Inc. had agreed to buy the paper, known for its salmon-hued pages and trenchant analysis of the global economy.
Nikkei will pay 844 million pounds ($1.3 billion) for the FT Group, which owns the paper and a handful of other media properties, in an effort to become more global and boost its digital growth. Pearson’s 50 percent stake in the Economist magazine and FT Group's central London building are excluded from the transaction.
“The challenge for us was to rethink and re-aim the way to make and sell the FT,” John Fallon, Pearson’s chief executive officer, said on a conference call. “We felt the FT needed to be part of an organization that was focused on journalism.”
Fallon in 2013 took over Pearson’s top job from Marjorie Scardino, an American who helped found the Pulitzer Prize-winning Georgia Gazette in 1978. A staunch advocate of the FT, Scardino once proclaimed Pearson would only sell it “over my dead body.”
The sale followed days of frenzied speculation over the fate of the paper. On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Pearson was sounding out bidders for the newspaper. On Thursday afternoon, the FT itself reported that Germany’s Axel Springer SE was the leading contender, but an hour later Nikkei and Pearson announced they had a deal.
The employee-owned Japanese media conglomerate publishes Nikkei, the country’s leading business daily, with more than 3 million print and digital subscribers. It also has 42 affiliated companies involved in broadcasting, events, database services and stock indexes. The deal will be the biggest overseas acquisition by a Japanese publishing company.
The purchase will give Nikkei more revenue from outside Japan and a high-profile brand. The two companies also plan to share digital strategies to boost growth online.
Nikkei, founded in 1876, earned 10.2 billion yen ($82 million) last year. The FT Group had revenue of 334 million pounds and 24 million pounds in adjusted operating profit.
First published in 1888 as a four-page newspaper, the FT says its circulation reached 720,000 last year, and digital subscribers accounted for 70 percent of the total. In a move to make more money online, the newspaper in February started putting almost all of its content behind a paywall, instead of allowing readers to view a few free articles every month.
The sale will allow Pearson to focus on fixing its education unit, which sells textbooks, online educational games and reference materials, and standardized tests. The unit has been hampered by declining U.S. college enrollment and falling textbook sales. Pearson shares rose 2.1 percent to 1,234 pence in London trading Thursday, valuing the company at 10.1 billion pounds.
Evercore Partners Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. provided financial advice to Pearson, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP acted as the company’s legal adviser. Financial advisory firm Rothschild helped Nikkei, which received legal advice from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with the FT in providing financial news and information.