MCLEAN, Va. – Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI) reported today that preliminary 2008 fourth quarter earnings per diluted share from continuing operations were $0.69 compared with $1.06 per share in the fourth quarter of 2007.
The preliminary results for the quarter include $56 million in pre-tax severance expenses ($36.1 million after tax or $0.16 per share) related to restructuring and efficiency efforts in the U.S. and the UK. Absent severance expenses in the quarter, the company’s preliminary earnings would have been $0.85 per share. Pre-tax severance expenses and facility consolidation costs totaled approximately $38 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 ($24.4 million after-tax or $0.11 per share).
The preliminary results, however, do not include non-cash charges expected to be recorded in the quarter, which have not yet been finalized, for the impairment of goodwill, other intangible assets and certain other assets. The non-cash charges are expected to total in the range of $5.1 billion to $5.9 billion on a pre-tax basis and $4.5 billion to $5.2 billion on an after-tax basis. In the fourth quarter a year ago, the company recognized a pre-tax, non-cash impairment charge of $72.0 million ($50.8 million after-tax or $0.22 per share).
Commenting on the fourth quarter results, Craig Dubow, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said: “Our results for the quarter reflect the unprecedented turmoil in the economies of both the U.S. and the UK and in the financial markets. Our anticipated non-cash impairment charges stem from recessions in the U.S. and UK and the resultant impact on business conditions and the broad-based downward pressure on equity share values. The impairment charges, while significant, will not impact operating cash flow, our ability to pay down debt or the way we will operate the company going forward. Despite economic conditions, we pressed forward to transform Gannett and position it for the future and more favorable business conditions. To that end, some tough decisions were made during the quarter regarding the size and structure of our operations, and these actions resulted in significant severance expenses.
“The ongoing weakness in advertising demand had a significant impact on our results in both publishing and broadcasting this quarter. However, we benefited from substantially higher politically related advertising revenue in broadcasting as well as solid results in the digital segment. Lower interest expense and taxes also had a positive impact in the quarter while higher newsprint expense moderated results,” Dubow said.
In accordance with the Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 142, the company’s annual impairment test of goodwill and other intangible assets is being completed as of December 28, 2008. Due to the challenges facing the company’s publishing businesses, including recessions in both the U.S. and the UK and their impact on advertising demand, and the decline generally in equity values and specifically its stock price, the company expects to incur non-cash impairment charges in the quarter to reduce the book value of newspaper publishing goodwill, other intangible assets including mastheads, certain property, plant and equipment, newspaper publishing partnership investments and certain other assets. The final amount of the charges will be included in earnings and disclosed in our Form 10-K, which will be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on or before February 26, 2009.
Total reported operating revenues for the company were $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter compared to $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007. A significant pullback in advertising demand as the quarter progressed across our publishing and broadcast businesses, driven by the recessionary economic environment, was offset in part by strong political advertising in the broadcasting segment. Digital segment revenues were higher for the quarter reflecting the consolidation of CareerBuilder and ShopLocal for the full quarter in 2008.
Reported operating expenses totaled $1.5 billion and were down slightly compared to the fourth quarter of 2007, reflecting continued cost containment efforts in publishing and broadcasting offset by higher severance expenses as well as incremental costs from the consolidation of CareerBuilder and ShopLocal. Excluding severance costs in both years and the impairment charge in the fourth quarter of 2007, pro forma operating expenses declined 6.3 percent for the quarter. Corporate expenses excluding severance were 7.6 percent lower than the year ago quarter.
Reported operating cash flow (defined as operating income plus depreciation and amortization) was $327.6 million. Preliminary net income in the quarter was $158.0 million, before anticipated non-cash impairment charges.
Average diluted shares outstanding in the fourth quarter totaled 229,336,000 compared with 231,877,000 in 2007’s fourth quarter.
For the full year, total operating revenues were $6.8 billion, a decline of 9.0 percent compared to 2007. Advertising revenue related to politics and the Olympics that totaled $94 million and $24 million, respectively, and incremental digital segment revenue from the consolidation of CareerBuilder and ShopLocal was more than offset by softer advertising demand overall due to economic and business conditions that deteriorated during the year. Pro forma operating expenses, excluding severance and impairment charges declined 5.7 percent. Operating cash flow was $1.5 billion. Preliminary results for the full year of 2008 (including impairment charges in the second quarter of $11.08 per share) reflect a loss of $7.81 per share. Excluding impairment charges and restructuring expense, preliminary earnings per share were $3.61.
Publishing segment operating revenues were $1.4 billion for the quarter compared to $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007, an 18.6 percent decline. Advertising revenues were $963.4 million compared to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007. This advertising revenue decline of 22.7 percent for the publishing segment was driven by a 17.7 percent decline in the U.S. and a 29.3 percent decline in pounds at Newsquest, our operations in the UK. Retail advertising revenues were 13.9 percent lower, national revenues declined 18.2 percent and classified revenues were down 36.7 percent. For comparison purposes, the exchange rate of the British pound declined over 22 percent year-over-year. If the exchange rate had remained constant, total advertising revenues would have been 19.3 percent lower including declines of 11.9 percent in retail, 16.8 percent in national and 31.8 percent in classified.
Lower classified revenues were driven by declines of 45.7 percent in real estate, 47.5 percent in employment and 30.4 percent in automotive. For U.S. Community Publishing, classified revenues were down 30.7 percent comprised of declines of 32.9 percent in real estate, 46.5 percent in employment and 25.7 percent in automotive. In the UK, classified revenues were 35.3 percent lower, in pounds, reflecting declines of 57.7 percent in real estate, 35.2 percent in employment and 31.2 percent in automotive.
At USA TODAY, advertising revenues were 18.5 percent lower in the fourth quarter compared to the fourth quarter in 2007. Paid advertising pages totaled 788 compared with 1,045 in the same quarter of 2007. The telecommunications, financial and advocacy revenue categories grew compared to the fourth quarter last year but these gains were more than offset by losses in the entertainment, automotive, retail and travel categories.
Total publishing operating expenses were $1.2 billion, a 10.9 percent decline from the same quarter a year ago reflecting cost control efforts, offset, in part, by severance expenses. Publishing expenses, excluding severance expenses and the impairment charge in the year ago quarter, were 6.8 percent lower. Newsprint expenses were 2.0 percent higher for the quarter reflecting a 26.2 percent increase in usage prices which more than offset a 19.2 percent decline in consumption. Operating cash flow in the fourth quarter for the total publishing segment, which includes USA TODAY and Newsquest, was $209.9 million.
Broadcasting revenues (which include Captivate) were $212.8 million in the quarter, about even with $212.0 million in the fourth quarter of 2007. Politically related advertising demand of $58.1 million was offset by softness in other categories, primarily automotive and retail.
Operating expenses in the broadcasting segment totaled $120.6 million, relatively unchanged from the fourth quarter a year ago reflecting significant cost control efforts and higher severance. Broadcasting expenses excluding severance were down 4.0 percent. Operating cash flow was $100.7 million in the fourth quarter. Television revenues were 1.7 percent higher and totaled $205.6 million. Based on where we are today, we would expect television revenues to be down in the mid-teens for the first quarter of 2009 compared to the first quarter of 2008.
The digital segment for the quarter includes results for CareerBuilder, PointRoll, ShopLocal, Planet Discover, Schedule Star and Ripple6 (from the date of its acquisition in November, 2008). Results for CareerBuilder and ShopLocal were initially consolidated in the third quarter of 2008 when the company acquired controlling interest. Results for PointRoll, Planet Discover and Schedule Star, which had been reflected previously in the publishing segment, have been reclassified to the digital segment.
Digital operating revenues totaled $169.9 million in the quarter driven by the consolidation of CareerBuilder, ShopLocal and Ripple6. Operating expenses were $145.8 million. Operating cash flow was $34.2 million reflecting positive results for CareerBuilder, PointRoll and ShopLocal partially offset by investment in other digital properties. On a pro forma basis, operating revenues were 1.4 percent higher while operating expenses excluding severance were 6.3 percent lower. Operating cash flow on a pro forma basis increased 63.5 percent.
The company’s equity earnings include its share of operating earnings or losses from unconsolidated investees including the California Newspapers Partnership, Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership, Tucson newspaper partnership and other online/new technology businesses. These amounts included the company’s equity share of results for CareerBuilder and ShopLocal for periods prior to September 3, 2008 and June 30, 2008, respectively, when the company acquired controlling interest.
Preliminary equity income from unconsolidated investees (excluding anticipated non-cash impairment charges) for the fourth quarter of 2008 was $3.6 million compared to $9.4 million for the fourth quarter of 2007. The decline primarily reflects: lower results from our newspaper publishing partnerships; the absence in the 2008 quarter of CareerBuilder earnings which are now consolidated; and increased investments in new businesses including Metromix, Mogulus and Cozi.
Other non-operating items reflect a loss of $7.7 million in 2008 compared with income of $2.7 million in 2007. The decline in non-operating items primarily reflects inclusion of minority interest charges for CareerBuilder for the full quarter, foreign currency translation losses and lower investment income, partially offset by a gain on the redemption of a portion of the company’s notes due in May, 2009, and other asset sale gains.
Interest expense for the fourth quarter was $51.5 million, 10.3 percent lower compared to $57.5 million for the fourth quarter in 2007. The decline was due to lower interest rates and average debt balances.
The company’s effective tax rate on its preliminary earnings for the fourth quarter of 2008 was 22.6 percent compared with 33.1 percent for the fourth quarter of 2007. The 2008 rate benefited from several favorable state tax settlements, the release of certain state tax reserves upon the expiration of statutes of limitation, and from a lower UK statutory tax rate.
In January, the company announced it was offering to sell certain assets of the Tucson (AZ) Citizen. If, however, a sale is not completed by March 21, 2009, the newspaper will be closed. It is one of the two newspapers produced by TNI Partners as part of a joint operating arrangement (JOA) under the Newspaper Preservation Act. The Arizona Daily Star, which is owned by a subsidiary of Lee Enterprises Incorporated, is the second newspaper in the JOA. TNI Partners provides the production, distribution, sales and other non-editorial business functions for both the Citizen and The Star.
At the end of the quarter, Gannett had more than 100 domestic publishing Web sites, including USATODAY.com, one of the most popular newspaper sites on the Web. The company also had Web sites in all of its 19 television markets. In December, Gannett’s consolidated domestic Internet audience share was 24.4 million unique visitors reaching 14.7 percent of the Internet audience according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Newsquest is also an Internet leader in the UK where its network of Web sites attracted more than 68 million monthly page impressions from approximately 5.5 million unique users. CareerBuilder’s unique visitors in December totaled 17.9 million, an increase of 24 percent compared to last year.
All references in this release to “comparable” revenue results and “operating cash flow” are to non-GAAP financial measures. Management believes that this use allows management and investors to analyze and compare the Company’s results in a more meaningful and consistent manner. A reconciliation of the non-GAAP operating cash flow amounts to the Company’s consolidated statements of income is attached.
As previously announced, the company will hold an earnings conference call at 10:00 a.m. ET today. The call can be accessed via a live Webcast through the Investor Relations section of the company’s Web site, www.gannett.com, or listen-only conference lines. U.S. callers should dial 1-888-599-8693 and international callers should dial 913-312-0717 at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the call. The confirmation code for the conference call is 8694836. To access the replay, dial 1-888-203-1112 in the U.S. International callers should use the number 719-457-0820. The confirmation code for the replay is 8694836. Materials related to the call will be available through the Investor Relations section of the company’s Web site Friday morning.
Gannett Co., Inc. is a leading international news and information company that publishes 85 daily newspapers in the USA, including USA TODAY, the nation’s largest-selling daily newspaper. The company also owns nearly 900 non-daily publications in the USA and USA WEEKEND, a weekly newspaper magazine. Gannett subsidiary Newsquest is the United Kingdom’s second largest regional newspaper company. Newsquest publishes 17 daily paid-for titles, more than 200 weekly newspapers, magazines and trade publications, and a network of award-winning Web sites. Gannett also operates 23 television stations in the United States and is an Internet leader with sites sponsored by its TV stations and newspapers including USATODAY.com, one of the most popular news sites on the Web.