Johnston Press confident of hitting targets for the full-year

Regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press said the rate of decline in advertising sales had continued to ease in the first half, giving it confidence it would hit targets for the full-year.

The group, which publishes the Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman, said it had also posted its first operating profit increase since 2006, due to the improving trends and cost cuts. Total revenues for the 26 weeks to July 3 were down 5.2 per cent to 207.3m. Total advertising revenues on a like-for-like basis were down 6.3 per cent, compared with an 18 per cent drop in the second half of 2009.

Johnston's exclusively regional portfolio exposes it more to classified ad weakness and it has been hit hard by the economic downturn due to the drop in recruitment and property adverts.

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Rival newspaper publishers Trinity Mirror and Daily Mail & General Trust said recently they had seen improving advertising trends although the regional divisions still struggled.

"As we move into the second half of the year, we have seen the improving trend in advertising revenues continue with total advertising in the first six weeks on a like-for-like basis only down 3.7 per cent," chief executive John Fry said.

"These industry leading trends ... along with our continued focus on costs, efficiencies and debt reduction, give the board confidence, in the absence of a further deterioration in the UK economy, that the outcome for the Group in 2010 will be in line with current market expectations."

Analysts at Numis said they would maintain their full-year forecasts for Johnston although they still have concerns over the high levels of debt at 401m, equal to a multiple of over four times core earnings.

Johnston Press shares closed up 1.25p at 16p.