May 11, 2017 Last Updated 10:19 am

Earnings season nears its end: Publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press reports earnings

Like other publishers, FP Newspapers says it sees that the ‘print advertising market will continue to be challenging’ but hopes new mall will lead to new ad partnerships

Mercifully, we are almost done with earnings season, the four weeks or so where public media companies reveal their quarterly performance, and private companies feel relief that they don’t have to. This first quarter of 2017 has been pretty brutal for some companies. Time Inc., for instance, coming off a failed attempt to sell itself, had to reveal just how bad things had become, with its stock immediately taking it on the chin.

The NYT’s report had some people smiling, and seeing hope, as they grew their digital subscriptions substantially… then came Bret Stephens’s first column and a call for cancelations. My guess is that the company’s Q2 report won’t show too much of a hit, if any at all, but whether they can continue their string of “not so bad” reports will be the question.

Earning reports from up north in Canada are starting to look pretty much like the reports down south, but with the numbers smaller, of course. Today, FP Newspapers, which publishes the Winnipeg Free Press, reported first quarter earnings which were in line with other newspaper companies — maybe a little better, actually.

Revenue fell $1.4 million or 7.3 percent, with print advertising down 11.5 percent. Net income was down, as well, but only a little bit, and the company showed that it was in the black. It also showed less finance costs as it reduced its debt a bit. All-in-all, not a bad report.

But like other newspaper companies, it sees tough times ahead, and so its report mentions that the company had set up a committee made up of senior managers from the Winnipeg Free Press, representatives from Unifor (the private sector union), and unionized departmental employees “to discuss the pressures the continued revenue declines are having on the business and what changes might be possible to help deal with these pressures.” The meetings probably have a sense of urgency attached to them as the collective bargaining agreement ends at the end of June, only 7 weeks away.

Here is the Q1 report for FP Newspapers:



WINNIPEG, Manitoba — May 10, 2017 – FP Newspapers Inc. announces financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2017. FPI owns securities entitling it to 49% of the distributable cash of FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership .

First quarter operating results of FPI

FPI reported net earnings of $0.2 million for the three months ended March 31, 2017, compared to net earnings of $0.3 million for the same period last year.

First quarter operating results of FPLP

FPLP’s revenue for the three months ended March 31, 2017 was $18.2 million, a decrease of $1.4 million or 7.3% from the same three months in the prior year. FPLP’s print advertising revenues for the three months ended March 31, 2017 were $10.3 million, a $1.3 million or 11.5% decrease compared to the same period last year. FPLP’s largest advertising revenue category, display advertising including colour, was $5.9 million, a decrease of $1.2 million or 17.2% from the same period in the prior year, primarily due to decreased spending in the local and national automotive, financial and retail categories, partly offset by increased spending in the travel category. Classified advertising revenues for the first quarter decreased by $0.3 million or 16.8% compared to the same period last year, primarily due to lower spending in the real estate and employment categories. Flyer distribution revenues increased by $0.2 million or 7.0% compared to the first quarter in 2016, primarily due to an increase in flyer volumes and higher rates.

Operating expenses for the three months ended March 31, 2017were $17.3 million, a decrease of $1.2 million or 6.6% compared to the same quarter last year. Employee compensation costs for the first quarter decreased by $0.8 million or 9.0% from the same period in the prior year, primarily due to a reduction in the number of employees across all of our business units. Newsprint expense for FPLP’s own publications for the first quarter decreased by $0.1 million or 5.6% compared to the same period in the prior year, primarily due to lower volumes. Delivery expenses for the three months ended March 31, 2017 decreased by $0.2 million or 6.0%, primarily due to the cost savings related to the consolidation of the carrier depots.

FPLP’s net earnings were $0.6 million for the three months ended March 31, 2017, compared to $0.8 million for the same period last year.

EBITDA(1) for the three months ended March 31, 2017 was $1.7 million compared to $2.2 million for the same period last year, a decrease of 22.1%. EBITDA(1) margin for the three months ended March 31, 2016 was 9.4%, compared to 11.1% in the same period last year.

Finance costs for the three months ended March 31, 2017 decreased slightly, primarily due to the lower level of debt outstanding.

Outlook

The print advertising market will continue to be challenging going forward. To date in the second quarter, print advertising revenues are trending at similar year over year levels that were seen in the first quarter. On May 3, The Outlet Collection Winnipeg opened and is Manitoba’s first pure outlet shopping destination. The new facility offers more than 570,000 square feet of shopping featuring over one hundred popular outlet brands. Winnipeg Free Press and Canstar Community News advertising sales staff will be making every effort to generate new advertising partnerships in the coming months.

The pension solvency relief measures finalized in early April will provide significant cash flow relief for the remainder of the year. Since we were required to comply with higher pre-relief funding levels for the first four months of the year, company past service contributions for the months of April thorough December will total $0.2 million compared to $2.7 million for the same 8 month period last year.

A committee made up of senior managers at the Winnipeg Free Press, Unifor representatives and unionized departmental employees has been formed and has held a series of meetings to discuss the pressures the continued revenue declines are having on the business and what changes might be possible to help deal with these pressures. The meetings have included discussions around possible changes to the current collective bargaining agreement for inside workers at the Winnipeg Free Press which is scheduled to end on June 30, 2018. The Committee has agreed on a tentative agreement and unionized employees will be holding a ratification vote on Saturday May 13, 2017.

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