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Post-Dispatch publisher Lee Enterprises sees profit, improving ad trend

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 | 11:58 a.m. CST

NEW YORK — Lee Enterprises Inc., which publishes the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and various other newspapers around the country, posted its second consecutive quarterly profit Tuesday, helped by falling costs and a smaller drop in ad revenue.

Like other publishers, Lee has been trimming expenses to deal with a prolonged slump that has reduced advertisement revenue by as much as one-third at some newspapers. Lee cut 1,000 jobs in its fiscal year 2009, ending the year with about 7,200 employees. It also has outsourced operations such as printing and delivery.

Lee, the first newspaper publisher to report results for the final three months of 2009, offered some optimism, sending its shares up 10 percent in morning trading.

Lee said ad trends improved throughout its fiscal first quarter, which ended Dec. 27. That improvement "appears to be continuing into January and February," CEO Mary Junck said in a statement.

Lee's ad revenue dropped 16.4 percent from the same quarter a year earlier. In the prior quarter, Lee's fiscal fourth, ad revenue fell 23.8 percent from the same period in 2008.

However, publishers now face easier year-over-year comparisons because ad revenue was already taking a dive toward the end of 2008. A year ago, Lee reported a 15.2 percent drop in ad revenue from 2007 levels.

For the most recent quarter, Lee said it earned $27.9 million, or 62 cents per share. It lost $48.7 million, or $1.10 per share, a year earlier.

Stripping out a $31.1 million accounting gain for lower medical liabilities and other one-time items, earnings came to 25 cents per share. That's up a penny from the comparable figure in the same quarter of 2008.

Overall, revenue slid 14 percent to $209.8 million from $243.6 million a year earlier.

Lee shares rose 42 cents to $4.47 in morning trading.

 


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