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Pearson said it would net a smaller than expected $300m from the sale of Wall Street English to funds linked to two private equity groups, Barings Private Equity Asia and Citic Capital. The sale will generate net proceeds of only $100m after costs, which will be used to pay down debt.
John Fallon, Pearson chief executive, said the sale was part of the group’s plan to become “simpler and more efficient”.
“The sale of Wall Street English is part of our continued effort to focus on a smaller number of bigger opportunities in global education,” he said. Shares fell 1.8 per cent to £6.95 in early London trading.
Pearson has been adjusting to major changes in publishing as more students and teachers switch from print textbooks to cheaper online and rented alternatives.
The sale of Wall Street English is the latest in a series of moves intended to refocus the company from media and publishing to education. Earlier this year, Pearson sold its stake in publisher Penguin Random House; in 2015, it sold off the Financial Times and its stake in the Economist magazine.
In August, it said it would cut 3,000 jobs as part of a £300m turnround plan to restore investor confidence. It recorded its biggest ever loss in 2016, thanks to a writedown in the value of its US higher education and testing business and is now trying to pay down £1.1bn of net debt.
Analysts said Wall Street English, which operates 70 English-language schools in China, nine in Italy and 321 franchised schools, needed too much investment.
“The [sale] price is lower [than expected] but it was always going to be a difficult business to value given that it is growing well but requires fairly significant investment going forward,” said Nick Dempsey, analyst at Barclays. “The real reason for selling this unit is to help focus and simplify the business.”
Barings Private Equity Asia said it planned to invest in the business, which employs the equivalent of 3,600 full-time staff. “This is a growth story not about cutting stuff,” a spokesperson said. “It is quite simple: nothing changes in terms of employees, customers or partners.”
Pearson bought the business from private equity group Carlyle for $240m seven years ago, buying operations in China and then the global business.