Good things are happening under the flying buttresses of the faux Gothic skyscraper on the Chicago River. Yesterday, media giant Tribune
But alas, there are some one-time items to consider before Chicagoans can paint their chests Cubby blue and cheer a hometown victory over No. 1 The New York Times Co.
A fourth-quarter, one-time gain reduced the rise in operating earnings to15.8% over the prior quarter. Not bad, but not 75% either. In both 2003 and 2002, there were also one-time items. Comparing the two years' earnings clear of them ($2.09 versus $1.87), Tribune still scraped together a healthy 11.8% growth rate -- not bad for a year when the whole industry continued to warn of shriveling advertising revenue because of the down economy, war, and terrorism.
Tribune also proved it's no stodgy newsprint outfit. Broadcast and entertainment operations surged more than publishing -- which is a good thing. The firm owns twice as many TV stations as newspapers. For the year, revenues from broadcasting grew 7.9%, compared to 2.4% in publishing. And operating profit in broadcasting ticked up 12.4%, more than three times the rate of gain in publishing.
Management's expecting revenue growth around 6% for 2004, and gave a nod to earning estimates around $2.38 (representing 14% growth). Currently selling for 21 times the forward estimate, it's priced on par with its peers, but Tribune's relative out-performance during a tough 2003 may make it the bargain of the bunch.
Seth Jayson loves to jog past the Tribune Tower. Reach him at FoolS@sethj.com.