December 12, 2018 / 12:53 PM / 8 months ago

Axel Springer weighs possible split of content, classifieds - CEO

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Axel Springer is considering restructuring options including splitting its fast-growing digital classified advertising business from its content operation in a bid to enhance shareholder returns, CEO Mathias Doepfner said.

CEO of German publisher Axel Springer SE Mathias Doepfner holds a speech during the annual news conference in Berlin, Germany, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Files

The German publisher is looking to the precedent set by Norwegian media group Schibsted, which plans to spin off and list its classified ads business to enable it to grow through mergers and acquisitions.

Addressing an investor presentation in London on Wednesday, Doepfner referred directly to Schibsted and said: “We are constantly evaluating and discussing structural issues.”

Management was also examining alternatives to unlock value and growth, and would act in the interest of shareholders.

A Springer spokeswoman said later that no decisions had yet been taken.

“There are a number of structural options that we are discussing. There are no new developments and no decisions have been taken,” the spokeswoman said.

Springer’s digital classifieds business, which includes jobs site Stepstone, real estate and other properties, is growing faster than its news operation, where its top bet is millennial-focused news outlet Business Insider.

In the first nine months of 2018, earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) in the digital classifieds business grew by 15 percent.

Their share of overall core earnings grew by 3 percentage points to 61 percent.

Doepfner said he expected revenues growth at digital classifieds of more than 10 percent over the next three years. Otherwise, the Berlin-based company reiterated the guidance it gave when it published third-quarter results.

Springer shares have fallen by 21 percent since peaking early this year and after a cautious outlook the company gave for its business.

Last month, however, it raised its forecast for earnings per share this year to the mid-single-digit percentage range after its digital classifieds business performed strongly in the third quarter.

The company trades at 13 times trailing earnings, according to Refinitiv data, putting it roughly in line with British peer Pearson.

Scout24, with which Springer competes in real estate ads, trades at a far higher price/earnings ratio of 30 while outdoor advertiser Stroeer, which is also ramping up its digital operations, trades on a multiple of 32.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine, editing by Riham Alkousaa and Elaine Hardcastle

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