July 26, 2018 / 12:17 PM / 3 months ago

Johnston Press exploring debt restructuring, not in talks with activist

(Reuters) - Johnston Press is exploring options to restructure or refinance its debt, the British regional newspaper publisher said on Thursday in a statement issued after its shares more than doubled.

Top investor activist Custos Group is not in discussions with the company, however, after offering to help refinance it on Tuesday, CEO Christen Ager-Hanssen told Reuters.

“I’m not in discussions with them — not for the moment,” Ager-Hanssen said.

He had offered help and called on the board to consult shareholders on its options on Tuesday.

Johnston Press, which owns more than 200 local and regional newspapers including The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post, said it had not received any proposal from any party for a refinancing or restructuring of its debt.

The company announced in March 2017 that it would conduct a strategic review of its financing options for a 220 million pound (220.25 million pounds) bond due for repayment in June 2019.

Custos, which has a 20.2 percent stake in the publisher, wrote on Friday to the company’s board to seek clarification on whether it had, or planned to, instruct administrators, a letter seen by Reuters showed.

Johnston Press has responded to the letter, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Ager-Hanssen on Thursday said he could not comment on whether he had received a response.

The company has struggled with declining revenue as advertisers increasingly use online platforms, drawing the attention of Custos, which has previously sought to oust the company’s chairman.

A company spokesman said on Tuesday that if Ager-Hanssen did have a workable proposal to refinance the business, the company would look forward to receiving it.

“If we are going to refinance the bond, we need to look into the books, we need to sign a (non-disclosure agreement), we need to have a dialogue,” Ager-Hanssen told Reuters in response on Tuesday.

“I will not send a proposal to a public company that is distressed.”

Johnston Press shares rose over 70 percent on Thursday, taking shares to 6.2 pence by market close.

Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru and Maiya Keidan in London; Editing by Susan Fenton, Edmund Blair and Jan Harvey

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