Knight Ridder Profits Up 2% as Ad Revenues Rise Slightly

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(AP) Knight Ridder, the nation’s second-largest newspaper publisher, reported a 2% increase in fourth quarter earnings Wednesday as advertising revenues edged up 0.3%.

Knight Ridder, which publishes 31 newspapers including the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News (Click for QuikCap) and The Miami Herald (Click for QuikCap), earned $99 million in the three-month period ending Dec. 28, compared with $96.6 million in the same period a year ago.

Earnings per share were equivalent to $1.22 versus $1.16 a year ago and one penny above the estimate of Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Total revenue rose 2% to $772.9 million from $759.3 million in the same period a year ago.

Advertising revenue for the quarter was $600.1 million, just above the $598 million a year ago.

Knight Ridder Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder said the year concluded on a “positive note,” with advertising revenues up 1.4% in December, the best performance since April. For all of 2003, advertising revenue was $2.21 billion, essentially unchanged from last year.

“To our disappointment, the industrywide advertising recession that began in early 2001 persisted through 2003,” Ridder said. He noted that help-wanted advertising in large markets was still soft, and retail advertising was hurt by cutbacks by department stores.

For the full year, Knight Ridder earned $296.1 million, up 15% from $257.5 million in 2002, while revenues rose 0.5% to $2.86 billion from $2.84 billion. Per-share earnings were $3.63 for 2003 compared with $3.33 in 2002.

Chief Financial Officer Gary Effren said that the company believed that analysts’ current estimates for full-year earnings of $4.00 for 2004 were “achievable.”

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