Lee Enterprises Swings to a Profit in Q4

By: Jennifer Saba

Lee Enterprises reported a profit in its fiscal Q4 of 4 cents per share compared with a loss of $4.34 per share for the same quarter last year. Operating cash flow grew 10.5% on a 25.5% cut in expenses and lower newsprint prices. The company expects to trim costs another 15% to 16% in December 2009.

Lee took a $1.4 million non-cash charge for equipment no longer in use for the quarter.

There is some optimism at the Davenport, Iowa-based chain as Chairman Mary Junck said that September and October were the company’s best months in advertising revenue performance for the year, a trend that is expected to carry through November.

However, combined print and online advertising revenue fell 23.8% to $140.5 million on a 31.8% drop in classified advertising revenue. Within the classified category, employment skidded 56.1%, while auto plunged 30.8 and real estate decreased 28.9%.

Retail ad revenue fell 19.7%. Online advertising revenue was down 24.7% on weak classified results.

Circulation revenue decreased 6.3%.

“While we can’t predict the timing of the economic recovery, we believe our streamlining of costs, aggressive sales programs and unmatched delivery of local news, information and advertising have positioned Lee to emerge strong,” Junck said in a statement.

“In 2009, we increased local market share by taking millions of advertising dollars from competitors, and in 2010 we expect to gain further share through our rollout of online behavioral targeting advertising and other intensive sales programs.”

On the debt front, Lee said it reduced its debt by $20 million in Q4 and $164 million for the fiscal year. At the end of Q4, Lee’s debt is $1.1 billion.

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