x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

In the pink: is there a suitable buyer for the Financial Times?

The Financial Times is not formally on the market, but everybody in the media world believes it will be in the hands of a new owner within, say, a year. The question is: who?

Who will buy the Financial Times?

The newspaper has not officially been put up for sale, and will remain part of the Pearson group at least until the end of the year until the departure of Margery Scardino as Pearson chief executive.

"Over my dead body" was her resolute response to questions years back on whether the newspaper was for sale. Her exit allows her, and Pearson, off that hook.

As I said, the paper is not formally on the market, but everybody in the media world believes it will be in the hands of a new owner within, say, a year. The question is: who? A long piece in The New York Times recently left the impression it was a two-horse race between Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, the giants of the financial information business.

But Bloomberg is thought to be worried about splashing out on old print technology, while Thomson Reuters must have found its eyes watering at the reported purchase price - about US$1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn).

And there is the problem that both Bloomberg and TR would probably want 100 per cent control of the FT. The paper has thrived under the benign and hands-off management of Pearson, but there would be a natural inclination for any new owner to get involved more than many in senior FT editorial management would find acceptable.

One scheme being floated in London is for a 50-50 split in ownership, along the lines of the deal Pearson currently has with The Economist, which is half-owned by staff and some well-heeled investors. This is deemed to have worked well over the years, and unlike the FT, The Economist is profitable.

Could a similar scheme work for the FT? There are many reasons it would not. It would be a tough ask of any potential buyer to pay about $600 million for a loss-making business that it would not control.

And who would fund the acquisition of the rest? That's a big sum to raise, even for the well-connected FT editors.

But I cannot see it ending as a two-horse race. Surely there is a cash-rich, altruistic investor out there who wants to own the world's business newspaper, or half of it anyway?

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Christmas in Dubai, my first, and so far I've got to say it's been pretty good. The Dubai Christmas Festival was a knockout last weekend. The area by the lake in Media City was packed with early revellers, all enjoying the band, the food and the beautiful weather. It was made all the more enjoyable by the news from London of sub-zero temperatures and snow.

They say it's all for the children, and the little ones were certainly having a great time, getting into the spirit with some atypical activities such as sand fights and deep-fried-chicken-throwing competitions. As the night drew in, the festival took on a more macabre look, with arc-lights surreally piercing the darkness, completely dominating the tree that had been ceremoniously lit up at dusk. I hope the rest of the season is as good.

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The Goldman Sachs elevator site on Twitter has been going big on China recently. Latest example: "China is our landlord and we know he's beating his wife, but we're two months behind on the rent so we let it slide."

fkane@thenational.ae