A.H. Belo hits another low

A.H. Belo, the parent company of Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper, has fallen to yet another low. Belo, which owns three daily newspapers and related media properties, is now probably worse less than the value of the property that The Morning News building sits on downtown.

Belo stock closed at $2.02 on Friday, a drop of more than 45 percent since I bought 100 shares about a month ago at what seemed like a great discount — $3.73 (and it started trading in February at $16 a share). That drop makes the company’s market capitalization about $41 million; The News building, on the other hand, is appraised for $28 million. That means it’s probably worth twice that much, given how the official appraisal undervalues commercial property.

After the jump, a few thoughts on what’s going on, what it means, and the news that the paper may form some sort of partnership with the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth.
• So why the precipitous share price drop? Some of it is the stock market, of course, which is in the dumper. Some of it is Belo’s refusal to release monthly earnings forecasts, which other newspaper companies do. That means the market sells Belo because it assumes the company’s earnings are as bad as everyone else’s, even if they aren’t. And they haven’t been that bad.

• If this slide continues through the spring, there will be more layoffs at The News. The most recent round, in October, didn’t hit The News as badly as its sister papers. For one thing, the economy hasn’t collapsed here the way it has in Providence, R.I., and Riverside, Calif. For another, The News is still the company’s flagship, and the bosses may be loathe to gut it the way they have gutted elsewhere.

• There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the Star-Telegram deal (and I should mention here that I am the wine columnist for the Fort Worth paper). But it’s not that unusual. Chicago’s legendary City News Bureau was just such a co-op, run by the city’s various newspapers. They shared stories, mostly of the ambulance chasing variety, so they could devote other resources elsewhere. Ironically, the bureau was closed a couple of years ago as a cost cutting measure.

• And, as a concerned Belo shareholder (who is hanging around until the bitter end), can we stop running Judge Eric Moye’s re-election banner ad, which still shows up on some of the Metro pages? I’m sure he isn’t paying for it anymore, and if things are this tough, we need to get a paying customer in there.


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