How PMP lost earnings of $30 million in seven months

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PMP is to rebrand and "draw a line in the sand" after a spectacular fall in earnings it blames on the ACCC and newspaper publishers who brought work inhouse.

And of course, $86 million from lost work, mostly for Pacific Magazines and supermarket chain Coles, which switched to Ive Group's Franklin Web.

In the report tendered to shareholders at the company's annual meeting, chairman Matthew Bickford-Smith admitted the difference between the $70 million earnings forecast in a trading update on November 20, 2017, and the $40.6 million achieved (to June 30, 2018) was "unacceptable".

Indeed there must have been an 'oh, sh**' moment when the group lost a lucrative contract for Coles supermarkets to Franklin... and perhaps congratulations are due on their mitigating the resultant damage.

But life goes on: If the name of PMP - a proud brand once based on the reputation of Rupert Murdoch's Pacific Magazines & Printing - needs refreshing, how about calling it 'Ovato' instead.

And extending their membership of the manroland Lithoman club with a $20 million 80-page press similar to the two on which their 'new' Sydney rival is now printing the Coles work.

Bickford-Smith also says it was the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that done it, with a "protracted approval process" over the merger with IPMG depriving it of "the opportunity to address integration issues during the quieter production months of December, January and February.

"As a consequence, PMP's early post merger operational issues were not able to be mitigated during that period, which together with an additional $7 million in energy costs over the previous year, materially impacted the year's unsatisfactory results."

Oh, and then there was the overtime and increased cost of production needed to meet "customer schedules and expectations" while bigger presses and equipment were being decommissioned, relocated and reinstalled.

The November update was one of two during the period, the other coming last February, "when it was apparent that Print Australia's mix of work was transitioning more quickly than expected away from magazine and newspaper volumes, affecting forecasts".

The outcome was that group sales dropped $108 million to $734 million, but Bickford-Smith contends that they are now in "firm control" over PMP's cost structure, with cost per tonne of output continuing the fall as integration benefits take hold.

At the annual meeting last week, chief executive Kevin Slaven spoke of the "line in the sand", and the need to signal "a significant evolution of the business, and to better present the impact we already have, and are building, in data and technology".

With the loss of print business, those achievements - and the USP of the national print and distribution footprint - tend to be overlooked. But watch out for next year.

Peter Coleman

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