Pearson Blames "Fifty Shades of Grey" for 5% Hit

LONDON -- Pearson (ISE: PSON.L) , the publishing giant behind Pearson Education, the Financial Times Group, and Penguin books, reported first-half sales up 6% to 2.6 billion pounds this morning. But a slump in operating profits -- nearly 10% lower at 188 million pounds -- has pushed its share price down 5% so far today.

Penguin's operating profits were substantially down -- 48% lower than in 2011 at 22 million pounds -- with Pearson blaming the "exceptional performance of competitor bestsellers Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games," as well as generally tough conditions for physical book publishing and retailing.

Meanwhile, operating profits within the professional education division were down a whopping 65% to just 9 million pounds, versus 27 million pounds in 2011. The fall was attributed to changes in funding criteria relating to IT apprenticeships.

The FT Group's profits were depressed 10 million pounds by the sale of FTSE International, although the continuing businesses -- the Financial Times, Mergermarket, and The Economist Group -- returned broadly level results.

There was better news from the group's North American education division, where operating profit was up 35% at 62 million pounds. Operating profit was up 16% to 73 million pounds at the international education division. Pearson anticipated continued growth in both areas, despite the effect of economic weakness on education spending.

Marjorie Scardino, chief executive, said:

We began 2012 planning for a challenging external environment and our caution was well-placed: conditions have been tough in the early part of this year and, for a couple of parts of Pearson, tougher than expected. But that's precisely when our planning for structural change and our investments in growth markets show their power.

We've kept up the pace of transformation, and continued our shift towards digital and services businesses, which this year for the first time will yield the majority of Pearson's revenues.

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