LONDON — It’s the end of an era for the London-based digital media, information and events company Ascential plc, which this week revealed plans to break up the business and to sell WGSN, the consumer trends forecasting platform it acquired in 2005.
Ascential said this week in a trading update that it plans to restructure in a bid to extract more value from its various operations and hand money back to shareholders, who have seen the company’s share price plummet 25 percent over the past year.
Shares on Thursday were trading at 2.60 pounds, down nearly 1 percent in early-afternoon trading.
The company said it plans to separate its digital commerce assets into an independent company, which could potentially be listed in the U.S., and to sell WGSN, which some analysts estimate could fetch close to 1 billion pounds.
A “significant proportion” of proceeds from the WGSN sale will be returned to shareholders. Ascential added the overall restructuring will provide growth capital for all of the group’s businesses.
The Ascential events business, which operates the Cannes Lions ad festival and the Money 20/20 conference, will continue to be listed as Ascential plc on the London Stock Exchange.
WGSN was founded in 1998 by brothers Julian and Marc Worth and purchased by the now-defunct Emap in 2005 for 140 million pounds. Ascential was later founded on the back of the former Emap business-to-business group.
Ascential has been on a reorganization streak.
At the end of 2022 it completed the sale of Retail Week and World Retail Congress to William Reed, a privately owned global data and events business, which also runs other brands in the retail space.
Duncan Painter, chief executive officer of Ascential, said in the trading update that 2022 had been an “excellent year” with all divisions delivering double-digit revenue growth and the events businesses leading the charge.
But he believes the breakup of the group “will create the best structure for each distinct business to thrive. As the clear world leader in product design trends and insights, WGSN is an outstanding and highly attractive business and well positioned for new, long-term owners to take it through its next chapter of growth.
“Potential sale proceeds are earmarked for both near-term returns to shareholders and fortifying stand-alone events and digital commerce listed companies in the U.K. and U.S., respectively,” Painter added.
Potential suitors for WGSN could include Future plc, the owner of titles including Wallpaper, Marie Claire and Country Life, which has been on a buying streak of late. Haymarket Media and William Reed might also take a look at the company.
Ascential’s total revenue for the year ended Dec. 31 is set to be at least 520 million pounds, nearly 50 percent higher than the previous year.
Adjusted EBITDA is expected to be at least 118 million pounds, or 32 percent higher than in the corresponding period in 2021. Full 2022 results will be released in March.