Asset sales are likely for debt-burdened Johnston Press, the Sunday Times claims today in an article featuring an exclusive interview with the newspaper group's outgoing chief executive Tim Bowdler.
The piece by James Ashton concludes that Bowdler bit off too much in 2005 when Johnston spent £475 million to expand into Scotland and Ireland, buying The Scotsman and Belfast News Letter.
Ashton notes that Johnston, the UK's second largest regional newspaper group, has debts of £465 million and a market value that has dropped to £77 million. Johnston Press has always denied stories that The Scotsman or the Yorkshire Post are up for sale. But Ashton's article states: "If trading deteriorates, Johnston could breach its banking covenants. A debt-for-equity swap is not impossible, asset sales are more likely to give it breathing space."
As for a possible merger with Trinity, which The Scotsman has reported is lobbying for a relaxation of the takeover rules, The Sunday Times article states: "It makes geographic sense but Trinity's pension fund deficit is enough to kill any desire for a deal now."
Bowdler is succeeded at Johnston Press by John Fry tomorrow and is to become non-executive chairman of the Press Association Group.