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Future - acquisition completed, on track for full year guidance

The previously announced acquisition of Who What Wear has completed.

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The previously announced acquisition of Who What Wear has completed. This is a US-based online women's lifestyle publisher, expected to give Future ''greater scale and reach in North America to further monetise its audience''.

Future also said it's on track to achieve full year targets, reflecting an ''anticipated return to audience growth'' as the effects from Covid unwind.

The shares rose 3.6% following the announcement.

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Our view

Future's business essentially comes in two parts. Their media arm, which covers digital advertising and eCommerce, accounts for around 65% of sales. The remainder comes from their magazine business, which includes the likes of Marie Claire, Country Life and TechRadar. As well as print advertising, licensing and publishing services.

The magazine business was hammered by the pandemic. Though it had been declining relative to media for some time. It wasn't long ago that the magazine was the main driver of revenue for the business. But times have changed, and we're glad to see focus shifting to the media arm.

That's because specialist magazines have been losing popularity for a while. Going digital is obviously more defensive than the print versions, but even then, social media's the new newsroom. Bloggers and influencers are the new special-interest experts.

On the plus side, the media arm's eCommerce and digital advertising businesses have shown strong growth over the last few years. Both stand to benefit from the long-term shift to online shopping and digital advertising too. Operating margins of 33%, a function of the group's tech platform that's enjoying the benefits of scale, leave plenty of breathing room. As the group matures, margins should, in theory, come for the ride.

The group's growth strategy relies heavily on acquisitions to keep revenue and profit moving. Organic revenue growth of 4% in the first half is a far cry from the acquisition supported top-line. We tend to prefer companies that focus on organic growth, rather than those that keep their engine hot by buying up everyone else's fuel.

The £629.2m acquisition of GoCo, now fully integrated, is Future's attempt to branch into offering services. Deals of this size, with a company so unfamiliar to the current set up, come with a high risk of getting things wrong. We can't knock the early progress, though.

The Dennis acquisition looks to be integrating well and now represents almost half of the magazine division revenue. Subscription-based revenues tend to be more reliable, and it also offers a chance to build out the important North American market. That's also the decision behind the recent acquisition of Who What Wear, a US-based online women's lifestyle publisher.

Future's valuation has come down steeply in the last year. A reversal of fortunes relies on harnessing recent momentum. Acquisitions are likely to remain a key focus, and we can't rule out the group asking shareholders for more money in the future.

Ultimately, Future has its fingers in a lot of pies, and there are some genuine growth opportunities ahead. But we'd like hardened proof it can generate sustained levels of organic growth and make a success of GoCo and Dennis.

The Share Research team is ceasing covering of Future. This is the last update and house view HL will produce on this stock. You can still find out more about our thoughts on the media industry by signing up to our Share Insight email. Or you can sign up to alternative share research updates through our sign up page.

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Half Year Results (18 May 2022)

Half year group revenue rose 48% to £404.3m, largely reflecting the benefit of acquisitions. Organic revenue was up 4%, with all divisions growing except Affiliates.

Underlying operating profit rose 51% to £134.5m, higher revenue and the effect of operating leverage helped offset increased costs due to inflation in magazines and printing.

Full year margin expectations have been re-affirmed, with the acquisition of WhoWhatWear and positive audience momentum expected to provide a ''modest upgrade''.

Media revenue rose 5% to £258.6m, driven by a 10% rise in digital advertising revenue despite lower online audiences. Events almost tripled as the segment recovered post-pandemic. That was offset somewhat by a 10% drop in affiliates, a division that benefitted from covid tailwinds last year.

The Dennis acquisition helped Magazine revenue increase from £90.0m to £145.7m. Excluding acquisitions, revenue rose 3% driven by higher subscriptions and a favourable comparable period for newstrade.

Looking on a geographic level, the UK saw revenue increase 3% to £249.9m driven by Media and Magazines. In the US, revenue rose 6% to £154.4m reflecting growth in digital advertising and affiliates.

Underlying free cash flow rose from £93.9m to £137.8m. At the end of March, net debt stood at £388.7m, up from £176.3m at the start of the financial year, due to the acquisitions of Dennis, Waive and WhatCulture.

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This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment. No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment. This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication. Non-independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place (including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing. Please see our full non-independent research disclosure for more information.

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Written by
Sophie Lund-Yates
Sophie Lund-Yates
Lead Equity Analyst

Sophie is a lead on our Equity Research team, providing research and regular articles on a selection of individual companies and wider sectors. Sophie's specialities are Retail, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Aerospace & Defence as well as a few of the big tech names including Facebook and Apple.

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Article history
Published: 17th June 2022