EPS results exceed analysts' estimates
DALLAS - Belo Corp. (NYSE: BLC), one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, today reported GAAP net earnings per share of $0.09 in the first quarter of 2009 compared to a GAAP net loss per share of ($0.15) in the first quarter of 2008.
The first quarter of 2009 included a gain, net of taxes, of $9.1 million, or $0.09 per share, associated with the purchase and retirement of Company bonds. The first quarter of 2008 included spin-off related transaction and financing costs and a one-time tax charge related to the spin-off of the Company's newspaper businesses and related assets on February 8, 2008 totaling $21.4 million, or $0.21 per share. The results of Belo's newspaper businesses and related assets from January 1 to February 8, 2008 are included in discontinued operations and total a loss of ($0.04) per share in the first quarter of 2008.
Excluding the gain on the purchase and retirement of Company bonds in the first quarter of 2009, and spin-off related charges and discontinued operations in the first quarter of 2008, pro forma earnings per share from continuing operations were break-even ($0.00) in the first quarter of 2009, exceeding analysts' estimates, and $0.10 in the first quarter of 2008.
Dunia A. Shive, Belo's president and Chief Executive Officer, said, "The Company's cost-saving measures, which included the holding of open positions Company-wide, a wage freeze enacted in November 2008, staff reductions in certain markets and other cost-saving measures, led to a 14 percent reduction in combined station and corporate operating costs in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the first quarter of 2008, excluding spin-off related charges and non-cash pension expense. Belo's first quarter total revenue declined 23.6 percent from the first quarter of 2008 and is indicative of the soft advertising environment prevalent throughout the country, especially in the automotive category. Retransmission revenue, however, increased 10 percent in the first quarter of 2009. For the remainder of the year, the Company's primary focus will continue to be on cash generation and reducing debt. The Company reduced its debt by $15 million during the quarter."
First Quarter in Review
Total revenues decreased 23.6 percent in the first quarter of 2009 versus the first quarter of 2008. Total spot revenue, including political, was down 27.5 percent with 26 percent and 24 percent decreases in local and national spot, respectively. First quarter 2009 revenues were affected by the soft advertising environment, particularly in the automotive category which was down 51 percent. Political revenues in the first quarter of 2009 were $4.4 million lower than the first quarter of 2008.
Advertising revenue associated with Belo's Web sites decreased 5.4 percent to $6.5 million in the first quarter 2009, representing almost 5 percent of Belo's total revenue. Retransmission revenue totaled $9.7 million in the first quarter of 2009, a 10 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2008, and represents over 7 percent of the Company's total revenue.
Total station expenses decreased 13 percent in the first quarter of 2009 versus the same period last year. Station EBITDA in the first quarter of 2009 was down 45 percent versus the prior year. The station EBITDA margin for the first quarter of 2009 was 24.3 percent compared to 33.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008.
Corporate operating costs were $9 million in the first quarter of 2009 as compared to $9.1 million in the first quarter of 2008, a decrease of 1.5 percent. First quarter 2009 corporate operating costs included a $1.4 million increase in non-cash pension expense. Excluding non-cash pension expense from both years, first quarter 2009 corporate operating costs decreased 16 percent compared to the prior year.
Belo's depreciation and amortization expense decreased slightly to $10.8 million in the first quarter of 2009, from $10.9 million in the first quarter of 2008.
Interest expense decreased $8.2 million, or 36 percent, in the first quarter of 2009.
Other income, net, increased $16.1 million in the first quarter of 2009 due primarily to a pre-tax gain on the retirement of $40.5 million of bonds due in 2013 that were purchased for $25.3 million.
Income tax expense decreased $17.3 million in the first quarter of 2009 due primarily to a one-time $18.2 million tax charge in the first quarter of 2008 related to the transfer of certain intangible assets in connection with the spin-off.
Total debt at March 31, 2009 was $1.078 billion, a reduction of $15 million from December 31, 2008. The Company's leverage and interest coverage ratios, as defined in the Company's credit facility, were 4.8 and 3.1 times, respectively, at March 31, 2009. The Company invested $1.1 million in capital expenditures in the first quarter of 2009, down from $6.4 million in the first quarter of 2008.
On February 8, 2008, Belo completed the spin-off of its newspaper businesses and related assets into a separate publicly-traded company, A. H. Belo Corporation. The results of operations of the Newspaper Group and related corporate expenses are classified as discontinued operations for all periods prior to the spin-off.
In the first quarter, the Company successfully completed an amendment to its bank credit facility. Although Belo was in compliance with the terms of its bank facility, the Company entered into the amendment to allow for additional capacity under the agreement's leverage and interest coverage covenants. The amendment reduced the banks' commitment from $600 million to $550 million at February 26, 2009, with a further reduction to $525 million at December 31, 2009. The amendment provides for an increase in pricing, based on the Company's leverage ratio, in addition to other modifications to the existing agreement. The credit facility retains its June 2011 expiration date.
In March, the Company announced the suspension of its dividend for an indefinite period following the June 5, 2009 payment of the second quarter dividend.
Non-GAAP Financial Measures
A reconciliation of station EBITDA to earnings from operations, a reconciliation of cash operating costs and expenses before spin-off related costs and pension expense to total operating costs and expenses, and a reconciliation of net earnings from continuing operations to pro forma net earnings from continuing operations, are set forth in an exhibit to this release.
"Looking to second quarter," Shive said, "current local and national spot pacing trends are similar to our experience in the first quarter of 2009. For full year 2009, retransmission revenues are expected to grow double digits and Internet revenues are expected to be flat to down slightly, which is lower than our previous guidance. In March, we announced several additional cost-saving measures that will affect the remainder of 2009, including the suspension of the Company's 401(k) matching contribution for all employees, a 5 percent salary reduction for employees who are part of the Company's management compensation programs, and a Company-wide staff reduction of approximately 150 positions. These cost-saving measures along with others previously implemented are expected to lower full year 2009 combined station and corporate operating costs, excluding spin-off related charges, by at least 11 percent, an improvement from previous guidance. Capital expenditures are not expected to exceed $12 million for the year, down from $25.4 million in 2008."
A conference call to discuss this earnings release and other matters of interest to shareholders and analysts will follow at 1:00 p.m. CDT this afternoon. The conference call will be simultaneously Webcast on the Company's Web site (www.belo.com/invest). Following the conclusion of the Webcast, a replay of the conference call will be archived on Belo's Web site. To access the listen-only conference lines, dial 1-800-230-1085. A replay line will be open from 3:00 p.m. CDT on April 30 until 11:59 p.m. CDT on May 7, 2009. To access the replay, dial 1-800-475-6701 or 320-365-3844. The access code for the replay is 995897.
About Belo Corp.
Belo Corp. (BLC) is one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, with 2008 annual revenue of $733 million. The Company owns and operates 20 television stations (nine in the top 25 markets) and their associated Web sites. Belo stations, which include affiliations with ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW and MyNetwork TV, reach more than 14 percent of U.S. television households in 15 highly-attractive markets. A Belo station ranks first or second in nearly all of their local markets. Additional information is available at www.belo.com or by contacting Paul Fry, vice president/Investor Relations & Corporate Communications, at 214-977-6835.
Statements in this communication concerning Belo's business outlook or future economic performance, anticipated profitability, revenues, expenses, dividends, capital expenditures, investments, future financings, and other financial and non-financial items that are not historical facts, are "forward-looking statements" as the term is defined under applicable federal securities laws. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those statements.
Such risks, uncertainties and factors include, but are not limited to, uncertainties regarding the costs, consequences (including tax consequences) and other effects of the Company's distribution of its newspaper businesses and related assets to A. H. Belo Corporation and the associated agreements between the Company and A. H. Belo relating to various matters; changes in capital market conditions and prospects, and other factors such as changes in advertising demand, interest rates and programming and production costs; changes in viewership patterns and demography, and actions by Nielsen; changes in the network-affiliate business model for broadcast television; technological changes, including the transition to digital television and the development of new systems to distribute television and other audio-visual content; changes in the ability to secure, and in the terms of, carriage of Belo programming on cable, satellite, telecommunications and other program distribution methods; development of Internet commerce; industry cycles; changes in pricing or other actions by competitors and suppliers; Federal Communications Commission and other regulatory, tax and legal changes; adoption of new accounting standards or changes in existing accounting standards by the Financial Accounting Standards Board or other accounting standard-setting bodies or authorities; the effects of Company acquisitions, dispositions and co-owned ventures; general economic conditions; and significant armed conflict, as well as other risks detailed in Belo's other public disclosures and filings with the SEC including Belo's Annual Report on Form 10-K.