Ascential plans to sell exhibitions arm to focus on digital

AscentialPlans to focus on its festivals and digital businesses could lead to a £300 million sale of Ascential’s exhibitions division.

The specialist information group previously known as Emap announced the launch of a strategic review of its exhibitions business yesterday.

The exhibitions business, which generated £78 million of revenue last year, includes the Spring and Autumn fairs, home and gift shows for the retail trade; Bett, a series of educational technology events; and Pure, a fashion trade show.

Ascential traces its origins back to 1887, when Sir Richard Winfrey bought the Spalding Guardian. In 1947, the Winfrey family’s newspaper interests were consolidated to form the East Midland Allied Press (Emap). In 1996 it sold its 65 newspaper titles to Johnston Press for £111 million and then in 2007 sold its consumer magazines and radio businesses to H Bauer, the German publisher, for £1.1 billion. The following year the company, by now a business-to-business magazine and events group, was acquired by Guardian Media Group and Apax Partners for about £1 billion.

Analysts estimated that a sale , which also include CWIEME, a series of shows for the automotive, consumer electronics and power generation sectors, could generate proceeds of between £250 million and £300 million. Shares in Ascential jumped by almost 6 per cent yesterday, rising 22½p to 400½p.

The review does not include Cannes Lions, the festival and awards event for the creative and marketing communications, entertainment and design industries, or Money 20/20, a financial technology payments event platform about to be launched in China.

If Ascential does sell its exhibitions unit, it is expected to redeploy the proceeds to pursue acquisitions.

Emap rebranded itself as Top Right Group in 2012, then three years later underwent a fresh change of name to Ascential. In 2016 it was floated at 200p a share, equating to a market value of £800 million.

The launch of the strategic review of its exhibitions division came as Ascential reported a strong set of annual results. Revenues from continuing operations rose by 6.4 per cent to £375.8 million on an organic basis at constant currency, with Cannes Lions lifting revenues by 7 per cent to £65.6 million. On the same basis, underlying earnings were up 3.4 per cent to £119.5 million and a final dividend of 3.8p makes a total of 5.6p, up 19 per cent.

UK, London

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