McClatchy Co. Q3 Preview: Will the Rally Continue?

By: Newspaper publisher McClatchy Co. is scheduled to report its third-quarter results before the stock market opens Thursday. The following is a summary of key developments and analyst opinion related to the period.

OVERVIEW: As the first major newspaper company to release its third-quarter earnings, McClatchy will provide a gauge on the state of an industry that has been reeling for most of the past three years.

After a deepening slump raised questions about McClatchy's survival, investors appear convinced the worst is over for the publisher of The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and 28 other daily newspapers.

That's not to suggest McClatchy still doesn't face a formidable challenge as it tries to adapt to media trends that are causing readers and advertisers to eschew newspapers' print editions for the Internet.

Advertising sales ? McClatchy's main source of revenue ? probably still plunged by a staggering amount during the summer. But the decline isn't expected to be as steep as the first half of the year when the company's ad revenue plummeted 30 percent from 2008's levels.

Any signs of progress will likely raise hopes that advertisers are regaining more confidence in the economy than they had been during the longest recession since World War II.

Here's another reason the third-quarter erosion might not be quite as bad as previous quarters: the slide in ad sales began to accelerate in the late summer of 2008, making the year-over-year comparisons a little less daunting.

McClatchy has already dramatically lowered its expenses so it can subsist on less revenue. Among other things, the Sacramento, Calif.-based company has reduced its payroll by one-third since mid-2008, leaving it with just under 9,000 workers at the end of June.

To stay in its lenders' good graces, McClatchy also refinanced its debt. The company's next big bond payment isn't due to be paid until 2011, giving it more breathing room to wait for a revival in ad sales.

Earlier in the year, McClatchy's financial duress raised the specter of a possible bankruptcy filing. At least 10 other newspaper publishers already have sought bankruptcy protection during the past 10 months.

Under the requirements imposed by its bankers, McClatchy's debt can't be seven times higher than its cash flow for the past 12 months. The ratio stood at 5.8 at the end of June, an improvement from 5.9 in March. The company's management has predicted McClatchy will stay well within those financial boundaries through the rest of this year.

BY THE NUMBERS: Only one analyst provided earnings and revenue estimates to Thomson Reuters, not enough for a meaningful poll.

WHAT'S AHEAD: McClatchy has been trying sell more ads on its Web sites, a crusade likely to be a top priority as its newspapers' printed editions struggle to maintain their appeal as marketing vehicles.

STOCK PERFORMANCE: With a bankruptcy filing seeming less likely, McClatchy shares increased by more than fivefold during the quarter to finish September at $2.56. The rally has continued so far this month.


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