Tribune Co. Reports Q1 Loss On Weak Newspaper Ad Revenue

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By: E&P Staff

Tribune Co. Thursday reported a first-quarter loss of $15.6 million, or 6 cents a share, on revenue that fell 4% to $1.21 billion from $1.27 billion in the same period last year. Weak newspaper ad performance, especially a 14% drop in classified, accounted for the loss.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had expected a first-quarter profit from Tribune of 31 cents a share, and revenues of $1.23 billion. Tribune noted that it reports earnings per share on GAAP accounting principals, as opposed to the pro-forma data used by analysts.

Tribune said quarterly diluted earnings from continuing operations were 8 cents a share compared to 32 cents in the year-ago period.

“The print advertising environment was challenging in the first quarter due to softness in classified categories,” Dennis FitzSimons, Tribune chairman, president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. Tribune said because of the going-private deal led by Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell it would not hold a conference call to discuss results in detail.

Tribune said its operating cash flow fell 12% to $238 million from $271 million, while operating profit plunged 16% to $181 million from $217 million.

The Chicago media giant’s publishing unit reported revenues down 5%, or $54 million, to $931 million. Cash operating expenses for the mostly newspaper unit decreased 3% to $748 million, mostly on a $19 million charge in the 2006 quarter related to the union contract at Newsday.

Publishing operating cash flow dropped 13% to $184 million from $212 million a year ago. Publishing operating profit plunged 18% to $140 million, from $170 million in 2006.

Overall print advertising revenues fell 6% in the quarter, Tribune said.

Classified advertising revenues plunged 14% percent for the quarter, with the largest declines at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel.

Real estate category revenues fell by 15%, help-wanted dropped 14%, and automotive was down 16%, Tribune said.

Retail ad revenues were down 1%, with increases at Chicago and South Florida papers “more than offset” by decreases in the former Times Mirror newspapers Newsday and The Los Angeles Times.

National ad revenues declined 2% for the quarter, “with declines across most categories,” Tribune said.

Interactive ad revenues, which are included in the other totals, were up 17% to $60 million, mostly on strength in automotive and real estate categories.

Circulation revenue fell 7%.

Tribune said its broadcasting and entertainment units’ first quarter operating revenues decreased slightly to $283 million, from $284 million in 2006. Operating profit was down 9% to $61 million from $67 million a year ago.

TV station revenues in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago all showed improvements for the quarter, Tribune said. But declines the auto, retail, and movie advertising categories were only partially offset by gains in telecom, entertainment/recreation, and packaged goods categories.

Earlier this month, Tribune agreed to an $8.2 billion buyout offer from Zell that will take the company private. Separately, Tribune said it is selling the Chicago Cubs baseball team at the end of the season.


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