The results were largely in line with Wall Street's expectations. But CEO Craig Dubow and other top executives failed to rally influential Wall Street stock analysts during an occasionally contentious teleconference on the quarterly results.
Chief Financial Officer Gracia Martore (left) ruled out an immediate dividend cut. But she said management and the board of directors continue to study how best to allocate capital. She said directors are scheduled to meet next week, although she didn't disclose their agenda. "We'll continue to discuss it with the board,'' Martore said.
She also indicated severance expenses would rise in the current quarter -- reflecting Dubow's warning last week that more layoffs are in the works. Martore didn't offer any details, however, including any target for job cuts, or a timetable.
Some analysts were unhappy with Gannett's disclosure today that it had stopped reporting revenue through the familiar monthly statistical reports. They also questioned GCI's failure to more aggressively buy back shares, now down 78% from a year ago. (Conference transcript.)
Gannett Blog reader reaction came fast. "I love it,'' one said. "A newspaper-media company withholding news. In the conference call, they disclosed they will no longer publish the monthly ad revenue figures, but will only put them out quarterly. Stock analysts didn't like this . . . and Corporate had some lame response about monthly not fully counting digital revenues, etc. The other ominous thing I got out of the conference call was that Corporate has no interest at buying back GCI stock, even at this low level."
Ad revenue collapse accelerates
For the quarter, Gannett reported net income of $158 million, or 69 cents a share, on revenue of $1.64 billion -- down from $234 million, or $1.01 per share, a year before.
Revenue exceeded the $1.61 billion forecast by analysts, but was nonetheless 9% lower than a year ago. Excluding severance costs for a big newspaper division layoff in August, Gannett would have earned 76 cents a share, a penny above what analysts expected.
Newspaper ad revenue plunged about 18% from last year's third quarter -- the steepest year-over-year decline since revenue began falling early last year. The revised newspaper division ad revenue trend:
- First quarter, 2007: down 2%
- Second quarter: down 5%
- Third quarter: down 6%
- Fourth quarter: down 12%
- First quarter, 2008: down 10%
- Second quarter: down 14%
- Third quarter: down 18%
Flagship USA Today's ad sales fell 7.1% in the third quarter vs. a year ago, the company said. Paid ad pages totaled 713 vs. 803 last year.Stock closes down
Gannett shares closed at $9.47, down about 2%, after recovering from an earlier low of $8.61. Still, GCI's dividend yield has soared to nearly 17%, spurring speculation that the company would move today to cut the payout -- a step considered by industry rivals. In its third-quarter earnings report yesterday, the New York Times Co. said it was considering a reduction in its dividend.
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[Image: today's USAT front page, Newseum]