July 24, 2018 / 3:02 PM / 3 months ago

Activist Custos seeks Johnston Press talks over refinancing

LONDON (Reuters) - British regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press’s (JPR.L) biggest investor said on Tuesday that it is willing to help to refinance the company and called on the board to consult shareholders on its options.

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

On Friday Custos wrote to the board to seek clarification by the close of business on Monday on whether it had, or planned to, instruct administrators, a letter seen by Reuters showed.

Custos CEO Christen Ager-Hanssen told Reuters on Tuesday that he had yet to receive a response and would welcome a chance to take part in any refinancing of Johnston Press.

“We would be happy to contribute in their refinancing and I think it’s strange that Johnston Press hasn’t talked to its shareholders,” Ager-Hanssen said.

A spokesman for Johnston Press confirmed that the company had received a letter from Ager-Hanssen and said it planned to respond this week.

“If Mr Ager-Hanssen does have a workable proposal to refinance the business, we look forward to receiving this and we will invite him to provide more detail,” the spokesman said.

Johnston Press said in April that it had core profit of 40.1 million pounds in 2017. The spokesman said it had 24.6 million pounds in cash at the end of May and reiterated June 5 comments that the business was trading in line with expectations.

The company announced in March 2017 that it would conduct a strategic review of its financing options for a 220 million pound ($288.66 million) bond due for repayment in June 2019.

“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 on Tuesday.

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

Custos holds a 20.2 percent stake in Johnston Press.

Ager-Hanssen said he planned to send another letter this week to ask for a meeting with the board.

($1 = 0.7621 pounds)

Additional reporting by Simon Jessop; Editing by David Goodman

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