Media Fortune Fame & Folly

Informa to sell data units and…

Informa Plc, the exhibitions and information company, is planning to sell-off its Asset Intelligence Group (AIG) of US and UK subscription businesses in construction and transportation.

The Atlanta-based AIG, which is believed to have revenues of some $30-40m, comprises: the US brands Equipment Watch and Cost Trax in construction, and Fleet Seek and Price Digests in trucking; and the UK construction data Barbour ABI and Barbour EHS (health and safety intelligence). The construction assets may account for more than 70% of the group’s revenue, mostly in the US.

AIG is one of the four divisions of Informa Intelligence alongside Finance, Pharma and Maritime. CEO Stephen Carter told shareholders at his AGM two weeks ago that AIG was “growing businesses, with strong market positions and highly valuable niche brands”.

It is reasonable to conclude that the prospective divestments (expected by end-2021) are the start of a programme of disposals to strengthen the balance sheet at a time when Informas dominant trade show division had been paralysed by Covid and is only now starting to recover. In that sense, it may even have been motivated by the rich multiples being paid for B2B subscription businesses.

Informa may (or may not) have been a bidder last year for the US data company Rouse Services but it would surely have noticed that the company was acquired by online construction equipment auctioneer Ritchie Bros for $275m – about 30 x EBITDA. Subscriptions are hot.

As Informa’s process gets underway, it knows the AIG is three quite distinct businesses: construction in the US and UK, and transportation (US only). But some would-be bidders might also try to persuade Informa to sell its Maritime Intelligence (including Lloyd’s List) and perhaps also its Seatrade events, together with its US trucking data business. At least one fast-growing company – Craig Fuller’s four-year-old Freightwaves – would be salivating at the prospect of bringing all those operations together. But, then, so might Bloomberg or Reuters.

The prospects might be complicated (or even propelled) by Informa’s rumoured negotiations to acquire or merge its Maritime Intelligence with IHS Markit’s Maritime & Trade portfolio including the Journal of Commerce, which are believed to have resumed after interruption by IHS’ impending $44bn merger with S&P Global. The possibility of a maritime-transport merger may have first been discussed two years ago when IHS Markit and Informa exchanged their agribusiness and TMT groups. That deal was the template also for this year’s Informa no-cash ‘merger’ with Novantas in the financial markets. The listed UK group can be very creative.

While Freightwaves itself might yet be hoping to buy the Journal of Commerce group, this may be a one-time opportunity to bring together the Informa-IHS-Freightwaves pieces of the jigsaw to create a worldwide transportation group. It would, at the very least, be a great way for Informa to maximise its proceeds now and in the future. For Craig Fuller, who dreams of creating the “Bloomberg of freight”, it would become a glittering IPO. Can they do it?