Gannett Earns $347 Million in 4Q

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By: Lisa Singhania, AP Business Writer

(AP) Gannett Co. Inc. reported fourth-quarter earnings slightly ahead of expectations Thursday, helped by strong results in its broadcast operations and improvement in its newspaper divisions.

For the three months ending Dec. 29, the media company reported earnings of $347.0 million, or $1.29 per share, compared with $248.4 million, or 93 cents per share, at the same time a year ago. The results were a penny higher than what analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had predicted.

Gannett indicated that it is seeing gradual improvement in its business, but remains cautious. The company said first-quarter earnings should be between 94 cents and 96 cents per share — a figure in line with many analysts’ estimates.

“We expect the economy to continue to grow this year barring external factors but there is obviously uncertainty surrounding geopolitical events and that uncertainty is not good for the markets … nor is it good for our advertising customers,” said Douglas H. McCorkindale, chairman, president, and chief executive.

McCorkindale said a U.S. war against Iraq should have little effect on the company as long as the conflict is short and successful. But he noted that some national advertisers are holding back on late February/early March commitments until the trajectory for military action becomes more clear.

Wall Street appeared satisfied by the news. Shares of the stock rose $1.38 to $72.89 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Revenues for the quarter were $1.73 billion, up 7% from $1.61 billion a year ago.

TV revenues rose 27% to $228.8 million in the fourth quarter, helped by record political advertising.

Fourth-quarter advertising revenues in the company’s newspaper publishing division were also higher, rising nearly 5% to $1.50 billion. The company said advertising trends appeared to be stabilizing. At USA Today, the company’s flagship publication, quarterly advertising revenues rose 2%, the first year-over-year increase since the fourth quarter of 2000. For the year, though, ad revenues at USA Today fell 6% to $314 million.

For all of 2002, Gannett’s total revenues rose 1.9% to $6.42 billion, from $6.30 billion in 2001. The company earned $1.16 billion, or $4.31 per share, compared with $831.2 million, or $3.12 per share, a year earlier.

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