McGraw-Hill's on a Slide

Take a company that operates at the nexus of media and finance, and its earnings for the fourth quarter of 2007 are likely to turn out much like McGraw-Hill's (NYSE: MHP  ) . The difficulty for the company is that it's tough to predict when its newfound circumstances will improve.

McGraw-Hill has been affected by fewer debt issuances because of the credit crunch in the finance sector and the steady slide of many companies in the media sector. For the quarter, it earned $140.6 million, or $0.43 per share, which is down 31% and 23% over the prior year, respectively. But if you take out a $0.08 restructuring charge, the company's per-share earnings for the most recent quarter would have come to $0.51. That is a penny less than the Wall Street dart throwers had anticipated.

Of its three operating segments, the most productive was the education unit, which produces all manner of school texts and professional educational materials. The unit is benefiting from a strong educational climate and has increased its revenues by 4.3% in the quarter, although it reported a small operating loss after restructuring charges (versus a small operating profit last year).

And then there's the financial services unit. The segment is broadly divided into Standard & Poor's Credit Market Services and the S&P Investment Services segment. Because of the steep decline during the quarter on the market services side -- mostly related to the mortgage and credit markets' messes -- the unit's revenues for the quarter slipped by 7.2%. And the operating profit for the unit was down 22.8%, after restructuring charges.

Finally, there's the information and media segment, which includes BusinessWeek, and J.D. Power and Associates, among other brands. This group is chugging along, but like most media entities, is doing so into a strong headwind. As such, while its revenues expanded by 3.6% during the quarter, its operating profit after restructuring charges fell by 6.1%.

At this time, results for the companies that can be included among McGraw-Hill's peers is incomplete. For instance, next week fellow ratings company Moody's (NYSE: MCO  ) will tell us about its latest quarter. Meanwhile, Scholastic (Nasdaq: SCHL  ) has reported a 9% earnings increase for its last quarter, and Fair Isaac's (NYSE: FIC  ) earnings for its latest quarter were down 19%.

For my money, I think it best to remain on the sidelines and continue watching McGraw-Hill. With the market performing triple loop-de-loops almost daily and no end in sight to the oft-discussed credit crunch, it's difficult to be enthusiastic about the company's immediate future.

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