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Pearson agrees to sell FT Group to Nikkei for US$1.3b

[LONDON] Japanese publisher Nikkei Inc agreed to acquire Pearson Plc's FT Group for 844 million pounds to gain control of the Financial Times newspaper.

The sales doesn't include Pearson's 50 per cent stake in the Economist Group and some London property, Pearson said on Thursday. Axel Springer SE, publisher of Germany's Bild-Zeitung tabloid, was also in talks over the assets, according to people familiar with the matter.

"We've reached an inflection point in media, driven by the explosive growth of mobile and social," Pearson Chief Executive Officer John Fallon said in a statement. "In this new environment, the best way to ensure the FT's journalistic and commercial success is for it to be part of a global, digital news company."

A sale of FT Group would allow Fallon to focus on tackling a slowdown in the education unit weighed on by declining US college enrollments and falling textbook sales. The FT Group had 2014 revenue of 334 million pounds and 24 million pounds in adjusted operating profit.

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Pearson shares rose 2.2 per cent to 1,235 pence at 3:28 p.m. in London, valuing the company at 10.1 billion pounds. Springer fell 0.2 per cent to 50.56 euros in Frankfurt for a market capitalization of 5 billion euros.

Pearson said it plans to put about 90 million pounds of the proceeds into its pension plan.

First published in 1888 as a four-page newspaper, the FT's circulation reached 720,000 last year, with digital subscriptions accounting for 70 per cent of the total. In a move to make more money from online readers, the newspaper in February tweaked its paywall system, moving away from a metered model that allows readers to view a few free articles every month before requiring them to pay.

Evercore, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Cazenove acted as financial advisers to Pearson. Rothschild Group assisted Nikkei.