The Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle are no shrinking violets in expressing their predictably liberal views, but their parent–McClatchy Co.–is a shrinking company. And investors are suffering for it.
McClatchy Co. lost more than $37 million in just three months, from April through June. The company is worth less than half of what it was a year ago – its stock has dropped nearly 60% in the past year, falling from $19.14 on July 28, 2016 to a closing price of $8.03 on July 27, 2017.
The parent of the two area newspapers has been losing money for a while. In the same quarter last year, McClatchy lost $14.7 million. The company is aggressively trying to reduce expenses, according to its earnings release, cutting operating expenses by 11.7 percent. But even that wasn’t enough to stanch the bleeding, because revenue fell by 7 percent compared to the same quarter last year.
Although the Star and Eagle boast of honesty, transparency, and forthrightness in their reporting, those standards apparently don’t apply to McClatchy when reporting on itself. The company listed seven prominent bullet points at the top of its earnings release – and none of them mentioned the huge quarterly loss.
Instead, it’s all peaches and cream: “Grew digital-only subscribers”… “Reduced operating expenses” … “Reduced principal debt” … “Reduced digital-only advertising revenues” … “ Grew average total unique visitors” … “Grew revenue categories other than print newspaper advertising.”
The company’s flacks even tried to spin its disastrous investment in the CareerBuilder website into a positive development, noting that McClatchy obtained $68 million on selling that stake during the quarter. There was no mention that McClatchy had taken a $123 million write-down of the CareerBuilder investment just two months ago. It’s hard to put a shine on that calamity, but the McClatchy execs tried.
The reader has to travel well past those happy headlines in the release to find the admission that the company’s profit had tanked again. The CareerBuilder fiasco was blamed for most of the quarterly loss, but even after excluding its effect McClatchy lost over $6 million.
The entirety of the McClatchy company – including the Star, Eagle, Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sacramento Bee and about 25 other newspapers – is now worth just $65 million. And the drastic drop in its value in recent times has affected the company’s standing in the financial markets.
In May 2016, with its stock trading around $1.20, McClatchy was compelled to take the unusual step of doing a 1-for-10 reverse stock split. Why? Well, one can only speculate, but New York Stock Exchange rules provide that a company can be delisted if its stock price stays below $1 for 30 consecutive days. McClatchy was perilously close. The reverse split instantly changed the price to over $10 a share, with investors’ shareholdings being cut by a factor of 10.
But while this sleight-of-hand helped to keep McClatchy on the NYSE, it didn’t do investors much good. Sure, it propped up the price by keeping those institutional investors that cannot hold a security priced under $5, from bailing out. But a stockholder who had previously owned 100 shares at $1.20 now owned 10 shares at $12. He was no richer. Before and afterwards, he owned $120 worth of stock.
And the stock has gone nowhere since this pricing maneuver occurred last year. In fact, McClatchy’s Friday closing price of $8.52 would equate to 85.2 cents on a pre-split basis, below the $1 NYSE threshold.
McClatchy is no different than any other business when it comes to trying to shape public perception. Despite its papers’ self-righteous pontificating that their supposed high ethical standards far exceed those of every other business, it’s all about appearances. Even for financially-troubled McClatchy.