Fairfax NZ earnings drop as print sales fall

Sales from its New Zealand business were down 7.4 percent to $181.4m, with the dominant advertising revenue falling 9.2 percent to $119.8m.
Sales from its New Zealand business were down 7.4 percent to $181.4m, with the dominant advertising revenue falling 9.2 percent to $119.8m.

Fairfax Media's New Zealand division posted a 12 percent drop in first-half earnings as the publisher of stuff.co.nz and the Dominion Post, Press and Sunday-Star Times newspapers said gains in its online revenue didn't offset the ongoing advertising decline in its traditional print publications.

Earnings before interest, tax, and depreciation fell to $30.3 million in the six months ended December 27, from $34.4 million a year earlier, the Sydney-based company said in a statement.

Sales from its New Zealand business were down 7.4 percent to $181.4 million, with the dominant advertising revenue falling 9.2 percent to $119.8 million.

Advertising revenue was impacted by weak market conditions in New Zealand, Fairfax said in slides accompanying its earnings presentation. Supermarket, retail and employment advertising declines were offset by strong performance in real estate and health, it said.

The New Zealand division increased digital revenue 43 percent without disclosing any detail. It also said its flagship stuff.co.nz website retained its top spot among domestic websites, lifting its unique audience 4.6 percent to 1.8 million in January from the same month a year earlier, ahead of online auction site Trade Me, a former Fairfax subsidiary, which posted a 9.4 percent decline to 1.7 million.

Rival news service nzherald.co.nz, owned by APN News & Media, increased its audience 22 percent to 1.5 million.

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Fairfax's New Zealand holding company was released from related party debt last year and received a $76.5 million capital injection from its parent having unveiled plans to roll out a new model for its newsrooms in ditching regional newspaper editors for regional editorial managers based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to try and drive digital platforms.

The company this week announced plans to cut 70 sub-editing jobs in New Zealand, effectively ending a strategy where Fairfax had outsourced the processing of Australian content to a hub on this side of the Tasman.

Fairfax's New Zealand division cut costs by 6.7 percent to $150.6 million in the half, which it described as "strong cost management" while investing in its digital business.

The Australian media group is placing an increased focus on digital business as a whole, with online revenue accounting for about 20 percent in the period, twice as much as it did five years ago.

Fairfax's net profit increased 4.2 percent to A$26.3 million on a 1.6 percent gain in revenue to A$958.1 million. Chief executive Greg Hywood singled out the Domain real estate website in driving digital revenue growth and earnings.

Since the balance date, Fairfax's revenue is tracking 1 percent to 2 percent below the same period a year earlier due to "continued weak print trends" though Domain is still performing strongly, the company said.

The board declared an interim dividend of 2 Australian cents per share, payable on March 18.

The ASX-listed shares last traded at 83 Australian cents, and have declined 9.8 percent this year. The stock is rated an average 'buy' based on nine analyst recommendations compiled by Reuters, with a median target price of A$1.03.

See the latest Fairfax investor presentation here:

- BusinessDesk

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