MARKET REPORT: New boss Andy Bird launches bold Pearson overhaul

Investors piled into Pearson as its chief executive started a new chapter for the education publishing powerhouse.

Former Disney chairman Andy Bird unveiled a bold and wide-ranging strategy to overhaul the company, which is scrambling to adapt to an age where textbooks are no longer the norm and people increasingly learn online.

Pearson has been grappling with this for several years and has racked up a string of profit warnings in the process.

Former Disney chairman Andy Bird unveiled a bold and wide-ranging strategy to overhaul Pearson, which is scrambling to adapt to an age where textbooks are no longer the norm

But Bird’s arrival last autumn was intended to turbo charge these efforts after the pandemic disrupted virtually all in-person teaching at schools and businesses in its major markets.

His plan will reorganise the company into five divisions and offer more materials directly to learners, rather than relying on sales made through other organisations such as university.

This ‘direct to consumer’ approach places an emphasis on lifelong learning and workplace skills. The new plan will be pricey – costing between £40million and £70million in 2021. 

But Pearson’s 2020 numbers underlined the need for change, with sales falling 12 per cent to £34billion. 

Stock Watch – Argo Blockchain

Argo Blockchain will be able to build a new bitcoin ‘mining’ site in Texas after it completed the takeover of a company called DPN.

Argo, which uses computer algorithms to unlock bitcoins, will gain access to 320 acres of land through the deal – which it paid for with a mix of new shares and £3.6million in cash. 

It said the facility will be powered mostly by green energy.

Argo’s shares, which have risen in line with the rocketing price of bitcoin, rose 13.6 per cent, or 30p, to 250p.

Profits rose to £354million from £232million in 2019, but this was boosted by the sale of Pearson’s remaining stake in Penguin Random House. 

Sales of global online materials worldwide jumped by a fifth to £697million.

In early trading the company’s shares dropped, indicating the market perhaps wasn’t quite as convinced as Bird. But it staged a comeback throughout the day and finished up 6.4 per cent, or 48.8p, at 808.8p.

The wider FTSE 100 started the week up 1.3pc, or 88.61 points, at 6719.13, while the FTSE 250 rose 1.2 per cent, or 248.91 points, to 21210.22.

Travel and leisure firms were big winners, with conference organiser Informa rising 5.7 per cent, or 31.6p, to 586.6p, British Airways-owner IAG by 3 per cent, or 6.1p, to 210p, while Carnival added 8.2 per cent, or 125.5p, to 1656.5p, and Easyjet 3.8 per cent, or 36.7p, to 1012.5p.

Housebuilder Persimmon (up 5.8 per cent, or 168p, to 3074p) rose after Citigroup brokers increased the target price on its stock. JP Morgan and Peel Hunt also raised their targets on fellow builder Vistry (up 9.8 per cent, or 91p, to 1019p).

In addition to Pearson’s numbers, results season continued apace. Shipping services giant Clarkson swung to a £16.4million loss from a £200,000 profit after the pandemic hammered international trade and brought about the ‘most globally disruptive and challenging time in living memory’. Shares dropped 1.9 per cent, or 50p, to 2570p.

Aircraft parts maker Senior also posted a loss, but saw its stock rise 7.2 per cent, or 7.9p, to 117.9p. The group was hit by the double-whammy of the Covid grounding flights worldwide and the crisis with Boeing’s 737 Max jets.

Direct Line’s backers failed to be roused by the insurer’s plans to launch a £100million share buy-back and a 2.1 per cent rise in its final dividend to 14.7p per share.

Covid and bad weather claims hit the insurer, knocking profits. It fell 1.8 per cent, or 5.9p, to 314.5p.

Aston Martin stalled despite pledging to make its electric cars in the UK. Shares fell 0.6 per cent, or 11p, to 1921p. 

The luxury car brand’s chief executive Lawrence Stroll promised to use local factories to make a battery-powered sports car and SUV.

On Aim, Sourcebio International (up 4 per cent, or 7.5p, to 197.5p) started the week with a big-name deal.

The lab services firm will provide Covid testing services to the England rugby squad and players and support staff at the 12 clubs in Premiership Rugby, the highest tier of club rugby in England.

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