McClatchy closed the books today on a rocky third quarter with an earnings report yesterday showing a small loss of $2.6 million (1 percent on revenues of $277.6 million).
But CEO Pat Talimantes instead opened the conference call with analysts offering commentary on a much bigger issue, what he described as “important events that have sealed our financial flexibility.”
An unfriendly commentator might describe those “events” as a yard sale. So far in 2014, McClatchy has sold four separate and substantial assets. The largest of them, in a deal with Gannett closed the first week in October, was a 25.6 percent stake in Classified Ventures’ Cars.com, which will bring in $631.8 million before taxes, $406 million after.
Earlier this year McClatchy sold its stake in Apartments.com (another part of Classified Ventures) It also sold its half of McClatchy/Tribune Information Services to Tribune and the Alaska Daily News to wealthy investor Alice Rogoff. Those transactions generated another $181 million.
Talamantes said the cash infusion will go to investments in “digital transformation” and to pay down some high-interest (9 percent) debt.
On the operating side McClatchy had a year-to-year third quarter decline in advertising of 8.2 percent. Print advertising was down 11 percent. Though national advertising makes up only a small part of the total (about 7 percent), it was off 23.2 percent for the quarter compared to 2013, which was not a good year for national either.
Trends were better in audience revenues and remaining digital businesses, Talamantes said. With continuing diversification the company now gets 64 percent of revenue from categories other than print advertising.
Under questioning from analysts, Talamantes said McClatchy was unlikely to acquire any of the 76 Digital First papers or others up for sale. “We would rather invest n opportunities in our markets … (with) greater digital resources.”
McClatchy continues an affiliation agreement with Cars.com and Apartments.com., but going forward it will need to split some the proceeds of sales with the new owners, thus reducing the revenue it realizes.
Also, while McClatchy will continue to look for savings, he declined to predict that expenses will fall in t he fourth quarter or in early 2015. Digital transformation is essential, Talamantes said, “and that requires some investment.”
For the day, McClatchy shares were up slightly in mid-afternoon trading. However they have now lost roughly half their value from a 2014 high April 2 of $6.81. Other newspaper-only stocks including the New York Times Company (which has sold many non-core assets in recent years) and Lee Communications have declined in value since the spring but not nearly so much. Read more