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* H1 adj. op. profit 774 mln pounds (vs 752 mln in poll)
* H1 revenue 2.904 bln pounds (vs 2.936 bln in poll)
* H1 underlying revenue growth 1 pct
* Full-year outlook reaffirmed
* Shares down 0.9 pct in line with European media sector
(Adds detail on LexisNexis in paragraph 17,18)
By Roberta Cowan
AMSTERDAM, July 28 (Reuters) - Professional publishing and events group Reed Elsevier beat first-half profit forecasts helped by demand for its academic research, and said it sees a gradual improvement in performance.
The Anglo-Dutch firm, which publishes scientific, business and academic information and runs the world's biggest exhibition business, posted underlying revenue growth of 1 percent and a 2 percent improvement in its operating profit.
Reed Elsevier shares fell 0.9 percent to 554 pence in London and 0.9 percent to 9.26 euros in Amsterdam, tracking a lower European media index Thursday afternoon.
"The first half has seen the growth trajectory improve with our large subscription and data revenues strengthening and most of our cyclical businesses recovering," said Chief Executive Erik Engstrom in a statement.
Reed Elsevier has recently completed a restructuring that led to the closure of many of its trade magazines -- a division it had previously tried to sell.
It has invested aggressively in its exhibitions business, and in its legal information business in North America.
Reed Elsevier reported first-half adjusted operating profit of 774 million pounds, driven in part by a 8 percent rise at the firm's scientific and medical journal business as well a 33 percent rise at the business information unit.
It narrowly missed analysts' expectations for sales, reporting a 3 percent decline to 2.904 billion pounds, weighed down by lower-than-expected revenues at the magazine unit, exhibitions and LexisNexis.
Analysts had expected sales of 2.936 billion pounds.
"Sales fell short of our expectations, driven by weaker-than-expected sales at LexisNexis Legal & Professional and Reed Business Information," said Michel Veul, an analyst at SNS Securities in Amsterdam.
"But operating results are stronger than expected, which is mainly related to a steep rise in margins at Elsevier-division where margins improved an impressive 230bp to 33.4 percent."
Insurance software licence sales at Reed's risk-solutions business, however, fell by a quarter and the company said it saw no improvement in the second half.
ING analyst Simon Wallis wrote: "We think the first reaction to these results will be that they were more-or-less in line. However, we think a second consideration might include some concern regarding the risk insurance business."
He kept his "buy" recommendation on the stock, which he considers inexpensive with an enterprise value 10.2 times its operating profit.
Reed Elsevier competes with Thomson Reuters , which met its overall guidance for a 4 percent rise in sales before the impact of currencies, when it reported second-quarter results on Thursday.
It also competes with Wolters Kluwer (WLSNc.AS), which just missed first-half core profit expectations on Wednesday due to weak European markets.
Reed Elsevier's LexisNexis legal information unit, which has been losing market share to Thomson Reuters' Westlaw, reported a 5 percent drop in revenues and a 6 percent drop in first half operating profit.
The firm said legal markets, following the financial crisis, have stabilised, but the recovery is muted and that growth in online products was largely offset by the continued decline in printed legal material.
The exhibition business, which includes the annual London Book Fair and the Vienna Auto Show, reported an 8 percent fall in operating profit, partly due to the fact that some biennial shows do not take place this year.
Reporting by Roberta B. Cowan; Editing by Sara Webb and Elaine Hardcastle Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan