Informa has been in a recovery position, waiting for vaccine roll-outs to take effect and confidence to return. It’s fortunes are likely to be highly dependent on just how quickly governments can inoculate citizens and roll out vaccine passport and testing certificates. But a rebound will also depend on the trajectory of the virus and recent new mutations have added to concerns that it may take longer for some key markets to reopen. So the firm has been very much in survival mode, cutting costs and staff while raising both equity and securing fresh debt lifelines to add to its financial buffers.
After the first shock of lockdowns, companies around the world moved quickly to set up digital events instead. As you would expect, Informa also jumped into this business, generating revenues of £100 million from virtual and hybrid events, but they are far from the cash cow that global conferences can provide.
The big risk is that having tried and tested the lower cost virtual versions, businesses will shy away from spending on big budget conferences in the future, and baulk at the cost of sending droves of employees on business class seats across the world.
Informa has managed to limp through the crisis, with the support of its subscriptions business, providing specialist content and digital platforms. There has been positive underlying performance for Taylor and Francis, Informa’s specialist in scholarly research arm and Informa Intelligence, which has seen strong growth in providing products for US banks.
The group is hopeful that 2021 will be a year of transition for its physical events business and already there are positive signs from China, where the virus was supressed rapidly. 45 events have been held since last June, with 1.2 million attendees. North America and the Middle East are expected to be the next regions to re-start events, with Europe lagging behind.
Even as economies reopen, the world won’t be taking a backwards step in digital transformation, and Informa will need to keep up the pace of transition, with its physical events business likely to be slow to recover.’’
Susannah Streeter is senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown