Nikkei hopes purchase of Financial Times will help it thrive in global markets in digital age

The Japanese buyer of the Financial Times wants to move beyond its roots to tap international markets made easier to reach by the digital age.

Like many Japanese companies, Nikkei Inc. is looking overseas for growth in the face of a stagnant economy and shrinking population at home, a move accelerated for the 139-year-old business newspaper by the globalization of media and competitive pressures as readers shift online.

The surprise announcement Thursday that Tokyo-based Nikkei would buy the London-based Financial Times for $1.3 billion from Pearson PLC could jump-start Nikkei's overseas push, if it is able to realize synergies between two of the world's leading financial publications.

"Nikkei wanted to go global but they never succeeded in the way they wanted to succeed," said Yoshikazu Mikami, a professor of media studies at Mejiro University in Tokyo. "If you want to be a global player you have to have global reach. The only option is to buy something that is global already."

Nikkei dominates business coverage in Japan, with 3.16-million paid subscribers, of which 430,000 are online. It also runs the Nikkei 225 index, a barometer for Japanese stocks similar to America's Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The newspaper's full name is the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which means Japan Economic Newspaper, but it is almost universally called by its abbreviated name, just as the Financial Times is known as the FT.

Nikkei launched a new English-language website and weekly magazine in late 2013 in a bid to become a purveyor of Asian news for business readers globally. It also opened an editorial headquarters in Bangkok to boost its coverage of Southeast Asia.

"By acquiring the FT, a strong brand among Anglosphere readers, the Japanese company hopes to strengthen its footing in the market for Asian business news," an article posted Friday on the Nikkei's English website said.