Tribune Co.'s fourth-quarter earnings excluding special items rose 3 percent, despite pressure from sagging circulation and a lackluster performance by its broadcasting business.
"Due to an uneven advertising environment, 2004 wasn't the recovery year we had looked for," Tribune Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President Dennis FitzSimons told analysts in a conference call yesterday. Through the first weeks of the new year, he added, "the economic trends are still choppy."
On a net basis, the media company reported earnings in the latest period of $216.8 million, or 67 cents a diluted share, down significantly from the year-ago quarter's net income of $338.4 million, or $1 a share.
Without special gains and charges, Tribune's underlying profit rose slightly, to $231 million, or 71 cents a share, from the year-earlier $224.4 million, or 66 cents a share.
The company's 3 percent profit upturn came on revenue that increased 1 percent, to $1.48 billion from $1.47 billion.
Like its industry rivals, Tribune has suffered in recent quarters from a soft advertising climate, which has pinched margins both at the company's publishing operation and at its broadcast segment.
Tribune, which publishes the Chicago Tribune and 13 other daily papers including The Sun, and owns 26 television stations, said publishing revenue inched up 1 percent, to $1.1 billion. Operating profit decreased 10 percent, to $233.8 million, reflecting higher expenses, a 6 percent decline in circulation revenue and a $24 million pretax charge linked to the elimination of 230 publishing jobs.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.