One of the premier brands in the newspaper business is the Financial Times, owned Pearson plc (NYSE: PSO), and when the company’s CEO announced her retirement last October, there was some speculation that the company would try to sell the venerable newspaper as it focuses its attention on its international education business. The names of several potential buyers were tossed around: Thomson Reuters Corp. (NYSE: TRI); News Corp. (NASDAQ: NWS); and Bloomberg the most prominent. So far, no takers.
That’s why an exclusive story in today’s South China Morning Post is so intriguing. The writer cites “knowledgeable sources” with a report that Pearson has been looking for a Chinese buyer, even though the “source” added that a Chinese buyer “is highly unlikely to make a bid for Pearson for mostly political reasons.”
Even if Pearson is indeed looking around China, chances are pretty good that the company is only looking for a bidder that might drive up the price for the FT. Last October Pearson’s FT Group was valued at around £750 million (about $1.2 billion), which includes a 50% stake in the Economist magazine among other assets. That is probably too rich for a Western buyer, especially given the beating that print publications are currently taking.
And that beating is probably what will ultimately keep Chinese buyers at bay. The government seems far more amenable to promoting web properties which don’t carry the baggage of years of print history. The country’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, was allowed to take its online portal, people.com.cn, public last April and the official Xinhua News Agency has now filed for an IPO for its xinhuanet.com portal site. Trying to incorporate a publication like the FT into the country’s media holdings would be virtually impossible.
Still, let the idea roll around in your head for a while. It’s a pretty entertaining thought.