Pearson CFO says no plans to sell FT, book stake

BARCELONA Wed Nov 14, 2012 6:00pm GMT

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BARCELONA Nov 14 (Reuters) - British media group Pearson does not have any plans to sell the Financial Times or a stake in a business being formed from a merger of its Penguin Books unit with Bertelsmann's Random House.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms conference on Wednesday, finance director Robin Freestone said Pearson was committed to two sections of its business dwarfed in recent years by its education business.

Speculation increased about the FT and Penguin Books following the Oct. 3 announcement that John Fallon, head of international education, was to take over as chief executive from Marjorie Scardino at the end of the year.

Pearson then announced later in October it and Bertelsmann were to form the world's largest book publisher to better cope with major retailers such as Amazon and Apple.

"We have entered this thing with the hope that it survives for a very long time," Freestone told the conference in Barcelona.

"There is no doubt, with all the modelling that we have done, that owning 47 percent of Penguin Random House is considerably more valuable than owning 100 percent of Penguin. And we would hope to hold 47 percent for a very long time."

Under the agreement, Pearson said it could sell its stake to Bertelsmann after three years. If Bertelsmann declined to buy, the joint venture could raise debt to pay both sides a dividend. Either side can require a stock market listing after five years.

Freestone said the agreement was a sensible protection for a minority shareholder, and not a sign it was already planning to exit the business.

Fallon's promotion also sparked speculation Pearson could sell FT Group, which includes the pink-paged newspaper, half of the Economist magazine and Mergermarket - an asset that was always a favourite with Scardino.

"I would not really expect any great change of strategy as a result of (Fallon's appointment)," Freestone said. "(The FT) is something that we are very proud of ... It is a very highly valued asset".

Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters have been named by analysts as potential buyers of the FT. Both have declined to comment in the past.

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