Q4 earnings per share at Belo Corporation were 21 cents, well ahead of the Wall Street consensus expectation of 17 cents and down only six cents from 28 cents a year earlier, when the company’s TV stations enjoyed a heavy dose of political ad revenues.
“The Company’s spot revenue, excluding political, in the fourth quarter of 2009 was down less than 1% when compared with the fourth quarter of 2008, a marked improvement from 2009’s third quarter decline of 16%. The fourth quarter 2009 total revenue decline of 13.8% is almost entirely due to the decline in political revenue. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the Company generated $35.9 million in political revenue versus $8.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. For full year 2009, total revenues declined 19.5% as the Company managed through one of the weakest advertising environments in recent history, while also cycling against a record $56.2 million of political revenue in 2008,” said Belo CEO Dunia Shive.
“The Company’s combined station and corporate operating costs decreased 13% in 2009 due primarily to expense reductions implemented over the past year. The Company’s ability to generate cash remained strong during the challenging economic environment as station EBITDA totaled almost $200 million in 2009, with a station EBITDA margin of 34%. The Company reduced its debt by $65 million during the year,” she added.
Q4 revenues were down 13.8% to $171.3 million. Belo said total spot revenue, excluding political, was down 16.4%, with local spot up slightly and national spot down 2.4%. Auto advertising was down 9% in the quarter, while it was down 39% for all of 2009.
Looking ahead, Shive reported, as have others, that business is improving.
“Total spot revenues in January were up more than 9% compared to January 2009, with higher percentage growth expected in February due to the Super Bowl on our five CBS stations and the Olympics on our four NBC stations. First quarter spot revenues are currently pacing up in the low double-digits, with the automotive category currently pacing up more than 40%. We expect robust political spending in 2010, most of which will come in the second half of the year,” Shive said.
“Our approach to expenses in 2010 will remain cautious and will be tied to the strength and stabilization of the revenue environment. We plan to lift the wage freeze for our employees at some point during the first half of the year. Capital expenditures for 2010 are not expected to exceed $15 million,” she added.