Shares in Centaur Media, publisher of the The Lawyer and Marketing Week, lost almost a third of their value on Friday after the company issued a profit warning and said recruitment advertising revenues had tumbled 66 per cent over the past year.

The news triggered a 30 per cent drop in the share price to 23¾p and prompted a chill across the business-to-business publishing sector as investors feared the recession was having a deeper impact than expected.

Informa, the publisher, fell 6.4 per cent to 213¼p while Yell group, the publisher of the UK’s yellow pages, fell 13.3 per cent to 26p.

Professional publishing is traditionally considered to be more resilient during a downturn because it is less exposed to advertising and demand for business information is more steady.

But Centaur is more exposed than most of the mainstream b2b publishers as almost 50 per cent of the company’s revenues come from advertising.

Roddy Davidson, analyst at Altium Securities, cut his 2009 profit forecasts almost 60 per cent from £11.3m to £4.7m and expects no profit growth until 2011.

Mr Davidson said: “The company is in an awkward position. They are managing the business in a responsive and proactive way but the market seems to be falling off at such a pace that it is having a very pronounced impact on profitability.

“You can obviously reduce cost to protect margins but you can’t do that indefinitely without cutting into the muscle of the business.”

Centaur has been forced to reduce headcount. Revenues from recruitment advertising have dropped to a third of the level of a year ago and February had shown “few signs of improvement”, the company said.

Last December, Incisive Media, the UK b2b publisher owned by private equity fund Apax Partners, breached the terms of its financing. Apax may now have to pump new funds into the company.

Shares in Centaur have fallen more than 70 per cent in the past 12 months.

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