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Departing Pearson boss heads for the exit on the back of more weak sales as the pandemic adds to struggling education publisher’s difficulties
- International sales were affected by immigration centres closing in Australia
- John Fallon has issued a set profit warnings, cut jobs and sold assets while CEO
- Demand for traditional products such as university course textbooks have fallen
Education publisher Pearson has revealed its sales have dived this year despite a surge in virtual learning in what is its last trading update with John Fallon as chief executive.
Its orders fell 14 per cent over the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same period last year as the coronavirus pandemic caused massive damage to its testing and North American courseware businesses.
Closed schools and test centres have incentivised more students to study online, which helped the London-based firm record a 32 per cent bounce in online learning sales from July to September against last year.
Pearson record a 32 per cent rise in online learning sales from July to September against the same period last year
It said it has had to increase the capacity of their virtual schools, because of soaring subscriber numbers. Meanwhile, sales of the group’s digital course materials to not-for-profit American institutions shot up by a third.
Over 1.35 million customers also took online proctoring tests between January and September. During the identical time in 2019, capacity was only 102,000.
However, this has caused demand for traditionally popular Pearson products, such as university course textbooks, to slide. Year-on-year sales did recover in the third quarter as the school and university year began, but were still 10 per cent lower.
International earnings were severely affected by the shutting of immigration and English language testing centres in Australia and India, as well as ‘budget constraints’ impacting courseware purchases.
‘Our digital performance is very strong, as we support customers and learners around the world as they shift to fully online and hybrid learning,’ remarked Fallon.
‘This has been a challenging transformation for all of us, but we are starting to see the benefit of all our work to ensure Pearson becomes the winner in digital learning.’
Demand for traditionally Pearson products, such as school textbooks have slid. Year-on-year sales did recover in the third quarter as the school years began, but were still 10 per cent lower
Even before the pandemic erupted, the business endured problems transitioning to the online learning market. Pre-tax profits plummeted from £498million in 2018 to £232million the following year.
Fallon, 58, has issued a string of profit warnings, cut jobs and sold assets in his seven years in charge. He noted though that the company would not have been able to cope with the rapid shift online during the pandemic had it not previously prepared.
Recently though, the firm was lambasted by shareholders over its large monetary package for incoming CEO Andy Bird, who is due to take over next week.
The former Walt Disney International chairman, 56, is due to receive a £7milion ‘golden hello,’ a salary of up to £5.9million, and a smaller sum for renting a flat in New York.
Hargreaves Lansdown’s Nicholas Hyett: ‘Digital learning has never been more in demand, yet the extra attention has also highlighted how much work the group has left to do’
Pearson insists it is financially stable and believes its performance this year will be ‘broadly in line with market expectations,’ but warned that the pandemic continues to cast ‘larger than usual uncertainties’ for the current quarter.
Analysts expect the group to post adjusted operating profit of £332million in 2020, a major drop from their February profit forecast profit of up to £490million.
Nicholas Hyett, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘The current crisis has shone a spotlight on Pearson.
‘Digital learning has never been more in demand, yet the extra attention has also highlighted how much work the group has left to do.
‘Digital courseware sales are potentially highly cash generative and higher margin than physical sales, while digital subscribers are potentially stickier.’
He added: ‘A change at the helm at such a tough time would usually be a source of concern. However, an experienced digital focused leader is likely just what’s needed right now. Still, the new team will have their work cut out.’
Shares were down 0.8 per cent to 565.2p with 15 minutes trading left today.