Tribune Co., the newspaper publisher that put itself up for sale, said fourth-quarter profit rose 78 percent on gains from asset sales and an investment in Time Warner Inc.
Net income (TRB:US) at the owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune increased to $239.1 million, or 99 cents a share, from $134.4 million, or 43 cents, a year earlier, the company said today in a statement. Sales advanced 5.4 percent to $1.47 billion, helped by an extra week in the quarter.
Tribune's results are likely to be the last before the company decides on whether to accept any of three offers it has received. Chief Executive Officer Dennis FitzSimons put the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher up for sale after struggling to stem the defection of advertisers to the Internet. Newspaper advertising dropped 3 percent excluding the extra week.
``Newspaper advertising was down a little more than I expected,'' said Edward Atorino, a managing director and analyst at Benchmark Co., who has a ``buy'' rating on the stock. ``As the year closed, help-wanted and real estate fell off the cliff.''
The company's largest shareholder, the Chandler family; billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle; and Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm, all placed bids for Tribune. A decision is likely by the end of next month, Tribune said.
``The process has been rigorous, thorough,'' FitzSimons said today on a conference call with analysts. ``And as you might imagine we look forward to its completion so we can spend 100 percent of our time focused on the future.''
Shares of Tribune, which also owns 23 TV stations, fell 3 cents to $30.92 at 4:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading (TRB:US). The shares (TRB:US) have risen 3.5 percent in the past year.
Newspaper advertising revenue rose 4 percent, buoyed by the extra week in the quarter, Tribune said. Circulation revenue, up 1 percent, would have declined 6 percent without the added days, Tribune said.
Newspaper advertising has been ``soft'' so far this year, FitzSimons said on the call, as real estate and national ads declined. Movie advertising at the Los Angeles Times, which comprises about 70 percent of all entertainment ads in the newspaper group, is increasing, he said.
Online revenue increased 31 percent to $61 million.
Sales at Tribune's broadcasting and entertainment division rose 11 percent to $356 million, the company said. Broadcast profit gained 7 percent to $106 million.
Net income included gains from an investment in New York- based Time Warner, whose shares have jumped 32 percent in the past six months. The company also had gains from the sale of its share of talent management firm BrassRing LLC and sold TV stations in Boston and Albany. The moves added $69 million, or 29 cents a share, Tribune said.
Profit before the gains was 65 cents, beating the 61-cent average estimate (TRB:US) of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue beat the $1.42 billion estimate.
Tribune is the last of the major publishers to report earnings. Revenue at all publications was boosted by the extra week in the quarter. Belo Corp., publisher of the Dallas Morning News, today posted a 29 percent increase in net income as political ad spending boosted television sales. Newspaper revenue dropped 3.2 percent, even when the additional week is included, Belo said.
Some of Tribune's competitors sliced the value of their newspaper assets to reflect the waning demand.
McClatchy Co. (MNI:US), publisher of newspapers including the Miami Herald, reported a loss after writing down the value of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. New York Times Co. (NYT:US), the third-largest publisher, sliced the value of its Boston Globe.
Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, said a jump in advertising sales at USA Today and its 23 television stations helped drive the company to its first earnings gain in two years.
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