What happened

Meredith (NYSE:MDP) -- the media conglomerate that now owns Time Inc. -- saw its stock crater 26.4% in mid-day trading (12:20 p.m. EDT) despite reporting a big earnings beat for its fiscal fourth quarter and year-end 2019 this morning.  

Expected to report pro forma profits of just $1.13 per share on sales of $774.7 million, Meredith surpassed estimates with earnings of $1.79 per share on sales of $785.6 million.  

It didn't save the stock.

Newspaper front page with a Breaking News headline

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Q4 sales declined less than 2% year over year, while sales from continuing operations for the year jumped more than 40%. But earnings, although ahead of expectations, were still far from good.

For the fiscal fourth quarter, Meredith reported an "adjusted profit" growth rate of 37% year over year, but the company's actual loss from continuing operations, under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), was $0.51, much worse than last year's Q4 loss of $0.06.

For the full year, the tale was similar. Adjusted profit may have grown 26% to $3.19 per share when compared to fiscal 2018 results, but operating income declined 37% to $1.12 per share.

Now what

And the news just got worse from there. The real problem with Meredith isn't just what the company earned last quarter -- or even last year -- but what it's now expecting to earn in the fiscal 2020 already underway.

Meredith is projecting full-year revenue between $3 billion and $3.2 billion -- roughly in line with the $3.1 billion that Wall Street has been expecting. However, management warned that GAAP earnings from continuing operations will land between $2.58 and $2.88 per share, and adjusted earnings per share are estimated to be in a range of $5.75 to $6.20.  

Whichever range you look at, that falls far short of the $6.57 per share that Wall Street had been looking to see -- which explains why investors are so down on Meredith stock today.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.