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Reed Pondering Acquisition Options

After selling off Harcourt Education to Houghton Mifflin Riverdeep – in which it still has an 11.8% shareholder stake – Reed Elsevier said it would take another look at its balance sheet once the two Harcourt disposals complete, according to the Telegraph. One way is to sell off that minority share and borrow more money for further acquisitions. “We do recognise that when education completes we are in a new situation and we should look at this again,” said Reed CEO Sir Crispin Davis.

Houghton Mifflin Riverdeep is buying Reed’s US schools business for $4bn, while Pearson has agreed to buy the Harcourt assessment wing for $950m. Both deals should complete by the first half of 2008. Lorna Tilbian, an analyst at Numis Securities, said: “A strong case can be made that Reed is underleveraged and we believe there is scope for the group to increase its rolling share buyback”. The recent flurry leaves Reed focused on its science and medical education wings, which Davis is primarily happy about. “I have no ambition to go into any new sectors,” he said, adding he was particularly interested in acquisitions within online health and risk management, where “credit card fraud and employee screening are fast-growing areas”.

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