Happy birthday, USA Today! The inaugural issue of one of the nation's best-known publications first rolled off the presses exactly 22 years ago today. Unfortunately, parent company Gannett
After enduring a costly and embarrassing circulation scandal and disappointing second-quarter results, management is now warning investors to lower their third-quarter expectations. The revised forecast calls for earnings of $0.49 to $0.51, well below estimates of $0.54. This projection reflects consolidated August sales figures, which edged up only 2% to $432 million.
At the root of the problem lies the well-publicized circulation errors, which continue to haunt Tribune. The $35 million charge set aside last quarter to appease angry advertisers who overpaid based on inaccurate figures proved to be overly optimistic. It will take another $45 million to $60 million to fully correct the mistake, a charge that will take a substantial bite out of the third quarter's bottom line.
Television revenues generated from the company's two dozen stations are expected to be flat for the quarter. After Tribune posted a 4.2% drop in August that was largely blamed on competition from Olympics coverage, September political advertising is also tracking below what it had hoped for. The two presidential campaigns are primarily neglecting states where either candidate maintains a sizable lead and funneling resources into select "swing states" that are still up for grabs. Tribune's dour observations echo similar comments made recently by E.W. Scripps
Publishing revenues aren't faring much better, inching up a mere 2.4% to $303 million last month. Weak department store spending drove retail ad revenues 0.8% lower, but national ad revenues grew 3.9%, and strength in help wanted and real estate advertising helped classified revenues jump 7.1%.
While Tribune's recent problems are certainly cause for concern, Foolish investors should always look beneath the headlines. The company still generates a mountain of free cash flow (nearly $1 billion last year) and maintains operating margins exceeding 20%, 800 basis points above the industry average. With the stock falling beneath its 52-week low this morning, long-term investors who can weather the adverse short-term effects of the circulation blunders might find now a good time to read more about Tribune.
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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.