By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) - European information provider Relx plans to raise its dividend by 3%, it said on Thursday, citing pandemic-driven demand for services from online identity checks to digital learning in science.
The British group, which outperformed the FTSE 100 index for 10 years after transforming from an advertising-supported media group to the more stable world of data and analytics, said its main science, legal and risk divisions had posted underlying growth despite the turmoil of 2020.
The one weakness that dragged down overall revenue and profit came from its exhibitions arm, which had accounted for 16% of revenue in 2019 but struggled to host many major events as global travel and face-to-face meetings ground to a halt in 2020.
The division posted an adjusted loss of 164 million pounds ($227 million), against a 331 million pound profit in 2019, with the outlook for this year still uncertain.
"The fundamental long-term growth drivers of the business do remain strong and we continue to invest behind our strategic priorities so the overall direction is unchanged," finance director Nick Luff told reporters.
Relx, previously called Reed Elsevier, said its three main divisions continued to deliver underlying growth in revenue and adjusted operating profit. They accounted for 95% of revenue in 2020.
It acquired 11 businesses for a total of 878 million pounds. Among them was Emailage, which helps to spot online fraud.
Overall, Relx reported adjusted operating profit of 2.1 billion pounds ($2.9 billion), down from last year's 2.5 billion pounds but in line with forecasts. Underlying revenue fell 9% to 7.1 billion pounds.
Analysts at Citi said the results indicated a slowdown in the performance of the Scientific, Technical and Medical division in the fourth quarter, preventing a rerating of the stock. Relx also ruled out a resumption of its share buyback this year.
The company's shares were up 1.5% in early trade. They have fallen 12% over the past year, broadly in line with the FTSE 100.
($1 = 0.7222 pounds)
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by David Goodman)