Media General Beats Estimates in 4Q

By: (AP) Media General Inc. said today that its fourth-quarter profit rose 21% over the year-ago period, as it benefited from record levels of broadcast political advertising and from renewed strength in newspaper help-wanted ads that helped lift results above Wall Street estimates.

The Richmond-based publisher earned $36.8 million, or $1.55 a share, in the quarter ended Dec. 26, up from $30.5 million, or 1.29 per share, from a year earlier. The recent quarter included a gain of 16 cents a share that resulted from a settlement of a newsprint-swap dispute.

Excluding that gain, Media General earned $1.39 per share, beating the $1.32-a-share estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

The 2003 quarter also included a gain of 29 cents for the sale of Media General Financial Services.

Media General shares rose 70 cents to $63.03 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Chief Executive Officer J. Stewart Bryan III said he was pleased with the company's 24% increase in segment operating profit in the quarter, which came as revenue rose 11% to $249.7 million from $225.5 million in the year-ago period.

Bryan said the broadcast division's profit rose 50%, driven by "unprecedented political advertising revenues." The publishing division reported an 8% rise in profits, mainly due to healthy classified advertising.

Newspaper classified revenue rose almost 10% to $4.1 million. Media General said several of its community newspapers saw gains in classified revenue over 10%, including a 27% increase in Charlottesville.

Employment linage at the company's three metropolitan newspapers rose 9%, including a 16% increase at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and a 10% gain at the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal.

Retail ad revenue in the quarter was about flat. National advertising revenue in the publishing division fell about 2%, reflecting lower sales at The Tampa Tribune and the Times-Dispatch.

Circulation revenue was down slightly for the fourth quarter, following three quarters of gains driven by rate increases and higher volumes at The Tampa Tribune.

The interactive media division's revenues rose 48% to $3.9 million in the quarter, but it still lost $1.7 million.

For the year, Media General's net income increased 37% to $80.2 million, or $3.38 per share, from $58.7 million, or $2.50 per share, in 2003. Sales rose 8% to $900.4 million from $837.4 million.

For the first quarter of 2005 -- typically Media General's weakest--_ the publisher expects revenue growth similar to that in the fourth quarter of 2004. It says classified revenues should continue to rise due to more employment ads and improvements in retail and national advertising.

Also Thursday, Media General reported December 2004 revenues of $72.2 million, up 8% from the same month a year earlier. Publishing revenue rose 5%.


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