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Tampa Tribune parent Media General loses $85.5M in 4Q

RICHMOND, Va. — Media General Inc., publisher of the Tampa Tribune, suspended its dividend and said it lost $85.5 million in the fourth quarter on an impairment charge and a steep drop in publishing profits due to declining advertising sales.

The dismal Florida market dragged down the company's results.

"The publishing division's lower fourth-quarter results were due to the continuation of the declining economic trends that we have experienced all year, particularly in Florida," said Marshall N. Morton, chief executive of the Richmond, Va. company.

Media General shares dropped 39 cents, or 13.7 percent, to $2.45 in morning trading. The company said Thursday that its loss for the period ended Dec. 28 amounted to $3.86 per share, compared with profit of $9.6 million, or 43 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Revenue fell about 12 percent to $207 million from $235 million in 2007.

The loss in the latest quarter included a non-cash impairment charge of $130.4 million.

Excluding the impairment charge, a tax valuation allowance and $6.1 million of pre-tax severance expense, income from continuing operations was $8.6 million, or 36 cents a share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected per-share earnings of 59 cents on revenue of $221.3 million. The earnings estimates typically exclude one-time items.

Media General said its publishing profit fell 68 percent to $8.5 million from the prior year.

Richmond-based Media General is among a number of newspaper companies suffering from declining ad sales. The New York Times on Wednesday said fourth-quarter profit plunged 48 percent and online sales fell for the first time as the recession dampened ad spending. Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper company and publisher of USA Today, will report fourth-quarter and annual results Friday.

Media General's total publishing revenue fell nearly 17 percent and advertising revenue fell 20 percent. Classified ad sales fell by $14.2 million, or 37.6 percent, in the fourth quarter, most significantly in its three metropolitan markets. Retail ads declined 12 percent and national ad revenue fell 11 percent. Circulation revenue was up 5.7 percent, reflecting higher single-copy prices and home-delivery rate increases.

The broadcast division saw quarterly profit fall 8.5 percent to $21.6 million. Revenue mostly came from presidential campaign spending in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, along with ad spending on congressional and state races in several states. The company also decreased broadcast expenses more than 10 percent, mainly by cutting jobs and adopting other money-saving initiatives.

The interactive-media division reported an operating loss of $1.6 million versus a loss of $2.6 million in 2007, partly due to results of online coupon-and-shopping site DealTaker.com, which Media General acquired in March, and higher online revenues on the company's local media Web sites. But those sales were offset partially by a 24.5 percent decline in online classified ads and a 37 percent decline in online national ads.

For the year, Media General lost $631.9 million, or $28.57 a share, on $800 million in revenue, compared with a profit of $10.7 million, or 47 cents a share, on $898.8 million in revenue in 2007.

Besides its three metropolitan newspapers, the company owns 21 daily community newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina, about 275 weekly newspapers and other publications and 19 network-affiliated television stations.

Tampa Tribune parent Media General loses $85.5M in 4Q 01/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 2:30pm]

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