Ad Resurgence Lifts Tribune to Profit

By: Dave Carpenter, AP Business Writer

(AP) An industrywide comeback in advertising helped Tribune Co. swing to a profit of $141.2 million in the first quarter after a year-earlier loss.

The results announced Wednesday were in line with Wall Street’s expectations.

Net earnings amounted to 41 cents a share, compared with a loss of $101.6 million, or 33 cents a share, a year earlier when results were skewed by a $165.6 million writedown associated with its Times Mirror acquisition in 2000.

Thanks largely to the advertising resurgence, revenues rose 5% to $1.29 billion from $1.23 billion a year earlier.

Ad revenue from the company’s 26 television stations led the advertising improvement, growing by 11% over a year earlier. That enabled the broadcasting and entertainment division, its second-biggest unit, to post double-digit gains in revenues and profits.

Tribune said a 2% increase in retail print advertising — primarily from pre-printed sections — and a 6% rise in national print advertising helped boost revenues for the publishing unit by 2% to $974 million. That business, its biggest, is dominated by its 12 major daily newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

The Chicago-based media company also benefited from a 5% drop in newsprint costs and from a smaller loss from its investments — $9 million versus $21 million in the first quarter of 2002.

“Our first-quarter results clearly demonstrate the strength of our local mass media franchises — revenues and operating cash flow are both up,” said Dennis FitzSimons, Tribune president and chief executive officer.

He told analysts on a conference call that Tribune had a strong start to the quarter before the conflict in Iraq weakened consumer confidence and slowed results in March.

Tribune said its full-year results should be within the range of Wall Street’s estimate of $2.04 to $2.20 in per-share earnings, but that assumes a second-half economic rebound.

Tribune shares declined 55 cents, or 1.1%, to $48.45 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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