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July 30, 2008

Er, what was that about a broad-based recession?

By Peter Kirwan MM blog

This morning, United Business Media turned in revenues up by 10.4% YOY for the six months to the end of June. Cash conversion improved, and so did operating profit (up 11.4%).

Even CMPi managed growth of 6.2% (although margins dipped slightly below 20%).

For the journalists among you, it’s worth pointing out that all of this happened inside a company (UBM as a whole) where only 25% of revenues are now generated by print. That’s down from 56% four years ago.

It’s just as well, then, UBM’s events business is doing a fair impression of the Duracell bunny. In his presentation to analysts this morning, David Levin, UBM’s chief executive, kept the best news until his last slide, which contained these bullet points:

— Forward bookings across UBM’s major events scheduled for 2H08 are 10% ahead of the previous year.

— Bookings for 2009 major events demonstrating good growth — 10% ahead.

Pearson was also presenting half-year results this morning. There, the FT Group delivered revenues up by 11% for the half-year. Much of that was attributable to the group’s Interactive Data division. But FT Publishing itself managed a 2% increase in subscription, circulation and advertising revenues.

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Not bad given what’s happening to City jobs and financial services advertising.

Dame Marjorie sounded over the moon. She told the FT: “In downturns, companies like ours, which have consistently invested and have very strong balance sheets, have huge opportunities. This [the next couple of years] is probably going to be the most fun time I have had yet in this job.”

How so? Scardino mentioned acquisitions, “bolt-ons, things which are hugely synergistic”.

Whether or not she’s thinking — in part? — about enriching the FT Group with acquisitions remains to be seen.

Three or four years ago, when the FT was languishing miserably at the bottom of its profit cycle, investors would have demanded Scardino’s head on a pikestaff at Traitor’s Gate if she’d so much as hinted at such a thing. Now, as the FT prepares to confront a rampaging Wall Street Journal, there’s just a chance that things might be different.

Stranger things have happened.

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