Piet Vroman, CFO De Persgroep: A year of transformation
In 2018, the consolidated annual report of De Persgroep was strongly influenced by acquisitions. By far the largest transaction was the acquisition of half of the shares in Medialaan, meaning that the group acquired full control of the company. This acquisition was accompanied by the sale of our participation in Mediafin. This double transaction has had a substantial impact on De Persgroep’s balance sheet and income statement. In addition, the group made three smaller acquisitions: the Mijnenergie.be comparison site, the Primo TV weekly magazine and the Euroinvestor investor site.
The group was able to complete a second major acquisition in December. With the acquisition of Independer, the Netherlands’ largest comparison site of financial products, the group made an important step in the expansion of the online services branch. As the acquisition took place in December, this transaction is only visible on the balance sheet and the cash flow statement. The Independer’s results will only be consolidated from 2019 onwards.
Even without the impact of the acquisitions, the financial results experienced a healthy development. Across the three countries, we see a good growth in digital readers’ income that is gradually absorbing the decline in print revenues.
Digital growth is spectacular and promising, particularly in the selective news media, but there is also a growing willingness in the mass segment to pay for digital news consumption. Our investments in new digital products such as the Kubus and the Editie with a better reading experience for consumers are an incentive for this.
“Across the three countries, we see a good growth in digital readers’ income that is gradually absorbing the decline in print revenues.”
Piet Vroman, CFO De Persgroep
In the advertising market, too, we saw a nice evolution in digital advertising sales in the three countries. Digital revenue growth was again spectacular in the Netherlands and Denmark, and the decline in print revenue was largely absorbed there as well. In the audiovisual branch of the group, we had good growth with our radio stations in Belgium and the Netherlands, but sales in television activities were under slight pressure.
Our online services were also able to present a good financial result. In the meantime, everything at Mobile Vikings was dominated by the migration to a full mobile virtual network operator (FMVNO). We will reap the benefits of these efforts in 2019. In 2019, the telco activities will be transferred to the new Online Services division, which will generate an expected turnover of more than 170 million euros.
The group’s consolidated income statement shows a good sales growth of 9 percent to almost 1.6 billion euros, an EBITDA growth of 11 percent to 241 million euros and a net profit growth of 15 percent to 126 million euros.
The yield improvement was visible across the three countries. As a result of the Medialaan acquisition, we saw an increase in EBITDA in Belgium to 95 million euros, with an EBITA contribution amounting to 63 million euros. EBITDA in the Netherlands also grew by 7 percent to 130 million euros. After depreciation and higher restructuring provisions, EBITA reached 101 million euros, almost at the level of 2017. Finally, in Denmark, EBITDA rose sharply to 16 million euros. Despite a restructuring provision, EBITA was able to grow to 4 million euros. Berlingske Media now has a clear strategy that focuses exclusively on the core activities and the digital transformation.
With the sale of the sites in Kobbegem and Hvidovre, the group also recorded more than 9 million euros in exceptional income last year.
The tax burden also remained high in 2018. With a burden of 47 million euros – of which almost 39 million euros cash out – the average tax rate amounted to 27 percent. Only from 2020 onwards will the reduction of the nominal tax rates in Belgium and the Netherlands bring this high tax burden down.
Despite the tax and investment burden, the cash flow statement shows a good conversion from EBITDA to operational free cash flow of 56 percent. This rapid cash flow generation allows the debts incurred for the expansion of the group to be repaid fairly quickly. In this expansion of the group in 2018 we could count on the support of our relationship banks for both the Medialaan and Independer acquisition and for the financing of the new building in Antwerp. At the end of 2018, the net financial debt of the group was less than 1.6 times the EBITDA.
The group prepares its annual report in accordance with Belgian GAAP, which includes an annual depreciation on acquisition goodwill. In 2018, these depreciations amounted to 89 million euros, while the acquisition goodwill balance sheet amounted to 664 million euros. Over the past few years, the group has written off more than half a billion euros in goodwill.
CFO De Persgroep