New York Times Earnings Preview: A Profit Boost, But Print Ad Revenues Plunging

bill keller new york times

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK – The New York Times Co., publisher of the third largest U.S. newspaper, is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter earnings before the stock market opens Wednesday.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Signs of hope or more misery in a bleak advertising market that has tormented newspapers for the past three years.

Ad sales plunged again in the fourth quarter, but the drop wasn’t as steep as the slide that occurred through most of 2009, according to a company update provided in December.

Revenue from print advertising — the company’s main source of income — is supposed to be down by about 25 per cent. The declines ranged from 31 per cent to 33 per cent in the print editions during the first three quarters of the last year. Besides The New York Times, the company also owns The Boston Globe and 16 other daily newspapers.

Online advertising, a less lucrative revenue channel, is expected to be up by about 10 per cent, marking the first quarterly gain in that category during 2009.

Two other major newspaper publishers, Gannett Co. and McClatchy Co., have already reported that their ad woes eased in the fourth quarter and indicated things aren’t getting any worse so far this year.

Besides getting the Times Co.’s ad outlook for the first quarter, investors also are hoping to get more details about the company’s plans to begin charging frequent readers of The New York Times’ Web site starting next year.

WHY IT MATTERS: If the ad market doesn’t rebound, newspapers will likely be forced to cut even deeper than they already have during the past few years. That would mean smaller staffs and less space in printed newspapers to keep readers informed, further propelling a downward spiral that has made it tougher to sell subscriptions and advertising.

Last year’s financial turmoil prompted the Times Co. to lower its expenses by about $475 million, or 17 per cent.

WHAT’S EXPECTED: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect earnings of 38 cents per share and $653 million.

LAST YEAR’S QUARTER: In the last quarter of 2008, the Times Co. earned $27.6 million, or 19 cents per share, on revenue of $772 million.

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