Australia's Fairfax up on asset sales; revenues plunge

SYDNEY: Ailing Australian media company Fairfax on Thursday unveiled a quadrupling of first-half profit to A$386.3 million (US$395.5 million) after offloading assets to guard against plunging revenues.

Fairfax, publisher of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald broadsheets and owner of radio and digital assets, said net profit for the half-year to December 31 was almost four times that of the Aus$96.7 million over the same period last year.

The profit surge was underpinned by over A$300 million in one-off gains including from the sale of a stake in major New Zealand online auction site TradeMe and United States agricultural publishing business Penton Media Inc.

Revenue continued to bleed, down 7.1 percent on the previous corresponding period, as advertisers and readers turned to other sources, but Fairfax said it had paid down some A$717 million of its debt, reducing it to A$197 million.

Underlying earnings excluding significant items slumped 22.2 percent to A$230.3 million, in line with market expectations.

"For some time we have considered it prudent to manage Fairfax Media on the basis that a significant cyclical upswing was unlikely in the near term," said CEO Greg Hywood.

"While the economic environment continues to be stressed and structural change presents (an) ongoing challenge our overall performance is in line with expectations. Our transformation is ahead of schedule."

Fairfax sent shockwaves through Australia's media sector in June by announcing it would sack 1,900 staff and put its newspapers - the only serious rival to Rupert Murdoch's vast Australian holdings - behind a paywall.

Its shares hit an all-time low in August after staggering losses of A$2.73 billion due to massive writedowns in the value of mastheads and trade names.

As well as putting content behind a paywall, Fairfax has announced it will switch to tabloid format in a bid to save money and stave off advances from the likes of mining magnate Gina Rinehart, a major shareholder.

The latest circulation data, published last week, showed a steep decline for Fairfax titles, with the Sun Herald down 23 percent in the three months to December 31 when compared with the same period last year.

The Sunday Age was down 14 percent, the Saturday editions of both newspapers lost more than 13 percent and weekday editions plunged 14.5 percent in the quarter according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

- AFP/de

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