For the fourth quarter of 2009, anyway — the first quarterly profit since it became a standalone newspaper company in 2008. For the year, it still lost a ton of money, but most of that was apparently related to some accounting maneuvers and didn’t reflect cash going out the door. The news release makes a point of emphasizing that the company has plenty of money on hand.
A.H. Belo, which owns Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper and three others, turned a $5.6 million profit in the fourth quarter. For the year, the loss was $110.2 million. So what accounted for the profit? Belo’s expenses in the fourth quarter in 2009 were two-thirds of what they were in the fourth quarter of 2008, thanks to layoffs and salary cuts and less spent for newsprint. The company had 1,000 fewer employees at the end of 2009 than it had a year earlier.
That one-third cut is an amazing number — think how difficult it would be to cut your household expenses by one-third in a year. It made up for the continuing lousy ad market, which was down almost a quarter compared to the final three months of 2008. For the year, ad revenue fell 19 percent, and the Internet has not been Belo’s savior — its revenue fell 17 percent in 2009.
All that cost cutting has accounted for Wall Street’s enthusiasm for the stock. It closed Wednesday at $6.73 a share, the highest it has been since the fall of 2008 — and a far cry from its days as a penny stock last summer. Full disclosure: I still own 100 shares of Belo after selling 100 at $5.10 in December, which I bought at 88 cents.