March 23, 2020 / 8:43 AM / 7 days ago

Pearson halts buyback, sees up to 35-million-pound hit to profit from virus

(Reuters) - British publisher Pearson (PSON.L) said on Monday it would halt share buybacks and forecast a 25 million pounds to 35 million pounds ($40.71 million) hit to operating profit this year due to the coronavirus-driven closure of many of its academic testing centers.

Shares in the FTSE 100 company were down 5.9% at 471.1 pence in early trade, broadly in line with the overall market.

“To date, we have seen test cancellations which impact our 2020 operating profit by around £15m after mitigating actions. We believe there is risk of further state test cancellations which could have a similar impact on profit,” the company said.

The company said it had significant financial headroom, with around 1 billion pounds in total liquidity immediately available from cash and its revolving credit facility at the end of February.

The company said it had seen a significant uplift in the use of its digital products and services, adding that this will “strengthen and deepen these relationships”, and accelerate the shift to online learning in time.

Pearson said it has seen a rapidly growing interest in its online learning businesses which could translate into increased billings later in the year and thereafter.

The pandemic, which has shuttered schools and universities around the world, has led many institutions to conduct online classes instead.

Pearson, a publisher of textbooks and provider of online educational tools and tests, said most of its VUE test centers are closed until the middle of April.

“If closures last longer..., then we would expect an operating impact of similar scale for each additional month partially offset by cost actions we would take,” the company said, adding that it had identified actions to cut operating expenditure and discretionary spend.

Pearson said school closures in China and Italy had modest financial impact on the company given the size of its business in those countries.

Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni and Shailesh Kuber

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