Gannett Co. Reports Q1 Profit up 51%

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Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, said Friday its first-quarter profit jumped 51 percent as the economic slump eased. Its shares surged to a new high for the year.

Cost cutting and a less severe drop in advertising revenue boosted the results.

Gannett earned $117.2 million, or 49 cents per share, compared with $77.4 million, or 34 cents per share, a year earlier.

Taking out a $2.2 million tax charge related to the recent U.S. health care overhaul, the company said it would have earned 50 cents per share. Analysts, who typically exclude such one-time items, expected 41 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Gannett, which is based in McLean, Va., publishes USA Today and more than 80 other daily newspapers. It is the first major publisher to report earnings for the January-March period and could offer a preview of what will come next week from McClatchy Co., Lee Enterprises Inc. and The New York Times Co.

As expected, Gannett reported its smallest ad revenue decline in more than a year, although the comparison is being made against a period in 2009 in which media companies’ advertising was plunging in the recession.

Gannett’s overall revenue fell 4 percent from the same period of 2009 to $1.32 billion, matching forecasts. Ad revenue in its publishing division _ which accounts for most of the company’s income _ fell 8 percent. That was a significant improvement from the decline of 18 percent that Gannett had in the last quarter of 2009 from the same period a year earlier.

The continued decline in newspaper ads was offset by a 15 percent rise in TV broadcasting revenue from the prior year. Gannett benefited from advertising tied to the Winter Olympics.

Its stock rose 78 cents, 4.3 percent, to $18.92 in morning trading. Earlier in the session it hit a new 52-week high of $19.68.

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