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Executives

Ryan Kimball - Assistant Treasurer

Pat Talamantes - President & CEO

Bob Weil - VP, Operations

Chris Hendricks - VP, Interactive Media

Elaine Lintecum - VP & CFO

Analysts

Avi Steiner - JPMorgan

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

Scott Wipperman - Goldman Sachs

Michael Kass - Blue Mountain Capital

The McClatchy Company (MNI) Q1 2013 Earnings Call April 25, 2013 12:00 PM ET

Operator

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Martina and I'll be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to The McClatchy Company First Quarter 2013 Earnings Call. All lines have been placed on-mute to private any background noise. After the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

I would now like to turn the call over to Ryan Kimball, Assistant Treasurer. Please go ahead Mr. Kimball.

Ryan Kimball

Thank you, Martina, and thank you all for joining us today for our first quarter 2013 earnings call. I am Ryan Kimball, Assistant Treasurer, and I’ll be available to answer any follow-up questions you may have after our call this morning. My phone number is 916-321-1849, and you can also find my contact information on our website.

This call is being webcast at mcclatchy.com, and will be archived for future reference. Our earnings release was issued this morning before the market opened, and I hope you’ve had a chance to review it.

Joining me today is Pat Talamantes, our President and CEO; our Vice Presidents of Operations, Bob Weil and Mark Zieman; our Vice President of Interactive Media, Chris Hendricks and our Vice President and CFO, Elaine Lintecum.

This conference call will contain forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties that are described in our SEC filings. Actual results may differ materially from those described during the call. Also, non-GAAP amounts discussed this morning are reconciled to the most directly comparable GAAP measures in schedules posted on our website.

Now, I would like to turn the call over to Pat Talamantes.

Pat Talamantes

Thanks Ryan, and thank you all for joining our conference call today. Our net loss for the quarter excluding the impact of completing the refinancing of our 11.5% notes and other unusual items was $700,000. This compares to a 2012 first quarter net loss adjusted for similar items of $2.5 million. As you know, the first quarter is always our seasonally lightest ad revenue quarter and so it’s a bit more challenging to achieve positive net earnings. Still it’s nice to see the improvement compared to last year.

For the quarter, total company revenues were down 4.0% compared to down 5.3% in the fourth quarter of 2012 on a 13-week basis and down 5.1% in the first quarter of 2012. Total advertising revenues in the first quarter finished down at 6.0% slightly better than the last quarter of 2012 and certainly not the first quarter reset we've typically seen since the recession. Circulation revenues helped by our Plus Program grew 1.6%.

On the Digital side, we continue to report advertising revenue growth. Total Digital Advertising revenues were up 1.5% and Digital Only Advertising revenues were up 8.9% in the quarter. Digital Advertising represented $24.0% of total advertising revenues in the first quarter of 2013 compared to 22.2% of total advertising revenues in the first quarter of 2012.

Within advertising categories, National continues to show improving trend, finishing down at 0.9%. Ad revenues from the Banking segment doubled while the Telecom segment increased 22% for the quarter. Total Retail Advertising was down 8.7% in Q1, about the same as the fourth quarter; while we are disappointed with the overall results from the Retail category, Retail, Digital only advertising grew 2.7%.

Total Classified Advertising finished down at 6.7% in Q1 compared to a decline of 5.7% in the 2012 fourth quarter results. The first quarter was impacted by our fiscal calendar and I think we talked about this on our last conference call. Auto Advertising is traditionally strong in the week after Christmas and normally falls into January, but in 2012, it fell in to our 53rd week and so we didn’t get accounted in the 13 week numbers in the fourth quarter and we don’t get to pick it up in the first quarter either. So it's a strong period normally with a boosted first week of the new quarter, but it didn’t this year.

However, the other two main classified categories, real estate and employment, both improved in the quarter, with real estate making great progress down 9.9% compared to 20% in Q4 and employment down 12.1% compared to down 15.1% in Q4.

Total Digital Classified revenues were up 3.0% and Classified Digital only ad revenues increased 11.8%. Still only to last quarter, the strength in digital only advertising was driven by our automotive category which reported a 17.3% gain as a result of our Cars.com product. Direct marketing, advertising revenues grew 2.6% for the quarter and accounted for 14.5% of total advertising revenues; growth in this category is now up for 11 of the past 12 quarters.

We continue to focus on broadening our sources of revenues by growing digital and direct marketing revenues. Those two categories together accounted for 38.5% of total advertising revenues. The Plus Program, our new digital subscription initiative is also contributing to our revenue growth in diversification efforts. In total, the Plus Program provided $5.8 million in incremental revenues from the first quarter contributing to the 1.6% growth in total circulation revenues. We finished the quarter with over 22,000 digital-only subscribers and now expect the Plus Program to generate approximately $25 million in new revenues by the end of 2013.

And despite the metered paywall associated with the new program, we have managed to sustain the digital reach we have build over the years. For the first quarter of 2013, daily average local unique visitors was down just 0.9% due to significant news events in the Northwest in the year ago quarter that makes for difficult comparison and really only a small impact we think from our metered paywall. Our mobile daily unique visitor count was 49% in the quarter compared to first quarter of 2012, with mobile page views up 62%. Mobile mail represents 33% of total daily unique visitors in the first quarter of 2013.

And we’ve begun to build on our success with mobile audiences, with iPad Apps at several newspapers in the first quarter followed by a second version of Tablet Apps on IOS and android as well as Smartphones Apps for both platforms all by the end of 2013.

Our equity investment started off the year impressively as our equity income was up 52.2% to $9.2 million in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same quarter last year. These companies which includes classified ventures the owner of Cars.com and Apartments.com and Carrierbuilder the nations number one employment website continues to provide our customers with valued products, while at the same time providing us with strong financial results in terms of these earnings in cash distributions.

Despite investments in new initiatives that we expect to help drive long term success, cash expenses excluding severance and other restructuring related costs were down 1.8% in the quarter compared to the first quarter of 2012. We were able to reduce cash expenses even though we invested approximately $1.9 million in new advertising products and enterprise-wide operating systems and despite an increase in pension expense of $2.8 million. We saw a 10.6% decline in newsprint expense driven by both volume and price declines. Compensation expense increased, but was down 1.8% if you exclude the $2.8 million in incremental pension expense.

Now in addition to lowering our operating expenses, we were also able to lower interest related expense by $7 million in the quarter. Interest expense directly related to our bonds was down $4.4 million while other non-cash interest was down $2.6 million. We completed the refinancing of our remaining $83.6 million of 11.5% senior secured notes in January and repurchased an additional $62.3 million of bonds during the quarter.

Total debt as of the end of the quarter was $1.566 billion down $145.9 million from year end 2012. And as we look at the second quarter we will have a large interest payment really the first one coming due on the new 9% bond so we don't expect to have the same level of debt reduction in the second quarter as we had in the first. We ended the quarter with a cash balance of $17.6 million and had $41.1 million available under our credit facility. Our leverage ratio at the end of the first quarter as defined in our credit agreement was 4.41 times cash flow and our interest coverage was 2.48 times.

In the first quarter we used $5.1 million to fund capital expenditures with $2.6 million relating to the construction of the Miami Herald’s new production facility in Darrell, Florida on the western side of the Miami market. We expect total capital expenditures for 2013 will be approximately $34 million with $11 million of that amount going towards the final cost for the new facility. So if we look out we know our journalistic success is helping us build significant audiences which were monetizing both through our new subscription program and through new products and services on the advertising side. At the same time we need to efficiently and strategically manage our expenses to provide room for investments in new products and technologies, as well as help us weather the economy in the ad market.

Now assuming we do all that right and we think we will, our businesses should continue to generate free cash flow that we can use the pay down debt. The result of those strategies in the second quarter should be new markets launching the impressed local digital marketing services product that we've talked about on previous calls, continued benefits from the plus program including growth in digital only subscribers and improving rate of decline in total revenues and the low single digit reduction in cash expenses compared to the second quarter of 2012 despite new product introductions and challenges such as higher pension expense. And beyond the second quarter we know success won't come easily, but we believe we have in place the right strategies, assets, markets and most importantly people to achieve it. And with that I would like to thank you for your time this morning and we will be happy to open it up for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Avi Steiner from JPMorgan.

Avi Steiner - JPMorgan

I've got a few here. One, just on the cost program you talked about contributing $5.8 million to [circ], but actual circ was up a little over $1 million, I assume that reflects subs dropping off, not renewing, but can you talk through that and then going forward given your $25 million guidance for incremental plus revenue, is it the right way to think about it as the same ratio you saw in Q1 i.e. 80% of it falls away so you get a $5 million bump year-over-year and then I have got a couple more, thank you.

Pat Talamantes

Okay, great thanks, Avi. You’ve hit on some important things I would like to touch on. So first of all in the first quarter, the results in the digital press program, we don’t actually believe that we're seeing people drop as a result of this new price improvement. So what we've been doing is we've been trying to talk to our subscribers as they call our circulation call centers and work with them to try to convince them of the value of the new digital bundle. But when you run into the situations where somebody doesn’t have a computer, for example, been a long-time subscriber, we're looking to save those people and subscribers.

Now later on down the road, they may still subject to price increases and home delivery, but for the moment we've been looking to save those people. So we have not really been seeing declines or drops in circulation from people saying that they don’t want to take this program. So that’s not the issue so much, but what is more of the issue in terms of masking the 5.8 million, is that in Q1 of last year, we were just wrapping up the end of the coupon clipping craze which you will recall that drove volumes higher through 2011 and in to the first quarter of 2012, and as you know Sunday single copy volume has been a challenge since then and that had a fairly significant impact on circulation revenues in the first quarter. So that’s really a large part of that answer.

Normal circulation trends are the other piece of it. But as we look to the second quarter and I think this gets to the rest of your second question. Part of the reason that we gave the guidance about improving total revenue trends in Q2 is because we expect circulation revenue trends to improve. And that’s in part because we will have cycled on the Sunday single copy issue. And ii part because more subscribers will have come to the end of their subscription period through which we honoured existing rates, and not everybody was moved on immediately as a result of the new digital subscription plan. We honoured the rates until as more of those people come up, we will be shifting them into the new plan and that means with the Plus Program pricing increases. So actually that ratio that you are talking about is not the right way to look at, we will be getting more Plus Program, revenue impact as we get into the second quarter and we think less of the Sunday single copy decline impact on circulation revenues.

Avi Steiner - JPMorgan

On guidance point to transition can you comment on the implication or how should we think about or may be what trends have been so far on the underlying ad revenue component of your revenue guidance?

Pat Talamantes

Yeah, this is always a difficult time of the year to talk about revenue guidance, because you have got all these holidays that shift around, and so visibility is very limited. So we purposely did not say anything really about total advertising until we will stick with that. But the impact of the improvement in terms of circulation revenues is significant enough for us to be able to give you the guidance that the total revenue trends will be improving in the second quarter.

Avi Steiner - JPMorgan

Okay. Two more and then I promise I am done. Is it fair to read through that the higher equity income that you are reporting all those being equal to potentially higher year-end distributions and I know you are going to say it's a Board level decision, but directionally?

Pat Talamantes

It certainly is helpful that the underlying businesses generate more income and most of that income is cash and as you know these are not levered entities, so that’s helpful. There is an issue of course with our newsprint investment, that business is not terribly good right now, and so that will have some impact on cash distribution at the end of year. So you’d like growing equity income that’s a better indicator, but at the same time as you said it is the Board level decision and it’s particularly early in the year to have a view on where we’ll end up by the end. As you recall and for those who weren’t just familiar, typically those dividend cash distribution decisions are made really late in the fourth quarter and so we don't them quarterly and as a result we have less visibility on that this time of the year.

Avi Steiner - JPMorgan

Okay. Very last one just simple question for you but if you say this already and I missed it, I apologize. Quarter end cash balance and can you break out the trenches that comprise $62 million that were repurchased in the open market of unsecured debt, thank you, assuming its that?

Pat Talamantes

Okay, Elaine has the advances for you.

Elaine Lintecum

I think cash balance was about $17 million is what we had indicated at the end of the quarter, and in terms of the $62 million that we bought back $37.5 million related to the 4.65% bonds and nearly $25 million related to the 5.75% percent bonds and that’s how you got to the 62.3

Pat Talamantes

Yeah, and just to expand on that a little bit, so you know what that means is we have very little coming due in 2014 now. And in 2017 even we've got a reduced level coming due there. And so we've really got a very nice runway now through the next 10 years that should help us quite a lot.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Craig Huber from Huber Research Partners.

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

Thanks for taking my questions. You plan to retail advertising down 10% in the quarter, was there much difference between the ROP piece of that versus retail inserts?

Pat Talamantes

Yeah, there was a fair bit of difference there Craig, on ROP was weaker in the quarter than the pre-prints piece was. Retail was down 13.5% and pre-prints were down 6.4%. So pre-prints continue to be a place where we are seeing a fair amount of strength when people are trying to drive traffic and they are building business models around the pre-prints. ROP tends to have a little bit more vagary around it and it’s a medium where you can get in and out pretty quickly. So in the softer environment like we saw in the first quarter you would definitely see an ROP.

I would mention though that in terms of our larger advertisers that you can think of it being both national and large retailers. We did see in the quarter an interesting phenomenon and in the sense that of the top 38 of those advertisers that we track, overall they were only down 2.5% in the quarter. See typically think about our issues coming from the larger advertisers in this quarter that group was down only 2.5% and actually only two advertisers accounted for that decline, all the others were either up or down but only two advertisers really accounted for that. So again I think we've been seeing some improvement in that with larger advertisers in 2012 and we've seen more improvements here in 2013.

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

So I guess as a follow up to that, so what do you make of your smaller and mid-sized advertisers, how much worse they are getting here, as you get a blip or do you think its economic driven or that's putting the smaller guys more, what's your thoughts on?

Pat Talamantes

Let me turn that over to Bob Weil to go through.

Bob Weil

Hey, Craig I think it really depends on the market. Generally sales territories are up, but I think what's impacting that number is the shift in the calendar in the first quarter where because of business that normally would have been accounted in the last week of December doesn't get accounted in 2013 because of our calendar shift. So we are working hard on driving visits for those accounts that we have the most control over which is local advertising.

Pat Talamantes

And when you have some economic uncertainty, I think that impacts those people, those businesses to a significant degree and that's why we are rolling out you know more products into that base of clients. So whether it’s trying to expand our print delivered direct marketing programs or whether it's ruling out more impressed local digital marketing services programs in the second quarter, we’ve got strategies in place to try to improve the results with that base of clients.

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

There are other few more. Elaine, if I could ask you, what was the principal value of each (charge) debt at quarter end, principal value?

Elaine Lintecum

Well, there is relatively unchanged, except that there is about 29 million of the 4.625 bonds lefts and about $260 million of the 5 entry quarters, and then while the rest and then $910 million of the new 22. Obviously, there is no 11.5 left, no changes in the 27 or 29 left.

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

Okay, thanks for that. And then ,can you break a part if you would that your newsprint line, you know, consumption price there, percent year-over-year, supplements like you have done in the past?

Elaine Lintecum

Sure, volumes were down about 12.8% and price was down 2.2% in the quarter.

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

Okay. My other question is, on your digital advertising number, I guess 1.5%, maybe if you could just break a part. I am just curious on an average basis, was pricing there versus volume help move that number up 1.5%, is much difference there?

Bob Weil

Pricing versus volume.

Pat Talamantes

Certainly we saw some volume decline. During the quarter, we saw some volume declines as a result of this (inaudible) of our initiatives. However, we were able to clear more inventory through that exchanges as well as improvement in CPM. So our rate actually increased and what was CPM during the quarter year-over-year as well as our unsold non-guarantee versus your revenue. We were also able to increase that rate during the quarter.

Bob Weil

But again, keep in mind, Craig, that 1.5% number is impacted quite significantly by our bundle advertising digital that is sold in combination with prints and when you see print volume trends the way we have seen them that certainly impacts that 1.5% number.

Craig Huber - Huber Research Partners

What about the sticking a little deeper your digital-only ad revenue in the quarter, what your general sense of, you said CPMs were generally up, what give sort of magnitude on that for a digital-only piece or range or something?

Pat Talamantes

CPM it's a little because it's not all of those businesses are CPM based and so that is a bit of an issue.

Bob Weil

Right these are just a CPM business, the display advertising business, the local is up about 15% on a rate on national was flat and the revenue was up about 37%.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Scott Wipperman from Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.

Scott Wipperman - Goldman Sachs

Thanks for taking the question guys. I jumped on a late so apologize if I missed this, but can you talk about where the upside is coming from on the expense side, I guess particularly in with the second quarter guidance and is the -- do you guys still expect operating expenses to be flat for the year? Then I have on follow-up. Thanks.

Pat Talamantes

Thanks, Scott. So in terms of upside I think what you mean is that we reduced expenses in the first quarter when we gave guidance in the first quarter that we were going to be flat of course that flat revenue guidance was based on a revenue outlook that turns out to be a little bit softer than we expected. And so we did do more on the expense side than we had anticipated doing, some of that was on compensation, some of that was in the newsprint area and so that helped soften the blow a little bit in terms of declining revenue.

As we get into the second quarter and given our revenue outlook we still think that need to be down in the low single digits to help manage that revenue decline. And so we are still looking at down expenses in the second quarter in the low single digits not a flat guidance. And I think for the rest of the year, we will have to see to the extent to which revenue trends improve or not and that is really going to guide what we do on the expense side.

Scott Wipperman - Goldman Sachs

Great, thank you. And then maybe you could just comment on the geographic performance, I guess California and particularly down 7.7, just curious as to what you are seeing there? And then just also kind of related but just curious if you’re getting better traction than anyone of your markets with the plus program, if any markets is standing out?

Pat Talamantes

Okay, thanks. So in terms of regional performance this quarter, there were a some special items that impacted some of the regions where significant for the company as a whole that certainly did impact certain regions, California was one of them. So I will turn it over to Bob who overseas California to go through that with you.

Bob Weil

California region which represents 17% of our total ad revenues was down about 7.7% as you noted. There are really two factors certainly performed us, first was a one-time rate adjustment from the major account in March of last year, a pretty sizeable adjustment in the second is the fewer bankruptcy legal notices that kind of double edged sword. We give less revenue now but it’s a healing economy on the real estate side. Those legal notices were down to 22%. If you will take those two factors aside and exclude them for a second the region would have been down in the 5% to 5.5% range which is two points to 2.5 points better than what we showed.

Retail was down 8.6% in the past due in part to an uneven economy health and entertainment segments were down, consumer electronics and fashion apparel were up, but we also had some weakness in the food side where one of our largest food advertisers cutting back the footprint with the challenges of trying to improve online performance. In National it’s only about 7% of the region’s total was down double digit really due largely to telecom. On the upside, we saw some nice gains in the National Food and Drug category as well as in banking and in entertainment.

In classified, revenues in the region were down 5.6%. As mentioned earlier the calendar shift in January which excludes the last week of December when automotive is typically stronger of course January classified revenue was down 9% which is much worse than we show for the quarter. Both automotive and employment were up in low single digit and real estate revenues were down 14%, almost four points better than the fourth quarter of last year and actually our best finish since the fourth quarter of 2006. So that kind of gives you a quick overview of the California region.

Pat Talamantes

Thank you Bob and we did see some other strains in the quarter like the weather was terrible in the Midwest and so Midwest which has been our steady performer over the past few quarters usually has had a tougher time in the first quarter related to that. And if any more questions on individual regions we will be happy to take those. But let me get to the second question which was on how digital Plus Program is being received in different markets and different regions. So Chris can I ask you to talk about that.

Chris Hendricks

Thanks Pat. A good gauge for success would be the number of our print customers who actually accept the option of having to engage the digital products. Right now we are running about 86% which is well - 86% of our print customers have accepted the package as a very good number, well above the industry average which is somewhere in the 70% range. As far as income fluctuations from market to market is concerned. It tends to be that the smaller markets get a better acceptance rate, but it’s not anything that we worry about, its not significant enough but they do get more of it acceptance rate than the larger papers.

Pat Talamantes

And what we are trying to do is to work with every market with a standardized package so that we are not leaving as much variation as we would say in the way advertising is carried out. So in this program the roll out was really organized on a company-wide basis and so that helps minimize the level of regional variation.

Operator

Your final question comes from the line of Michael Kass from Blue Mountain Capital. Your line is open.

Michael Kass - Blue Mountain Capital

Thanks for taking the question. Just had two questions, the first was on the Pay Plus or the Plus Program, could you just give any indication; you mentioned that not all subscribers had been moved in the quarter on to the program. Can you give any indication of what the average price increase is or what percentage have been either moved or movements been attempted versus what's left? I am just trying to kind of understand what the ASP impact is and what a steady state is likely to look like?

Pat Talamantes

Sure, so our average price increase has been call it in the 12% to 15% range, and so that’s interesting as you think about the different models that are out there in our industry. Important to also note that we're starting from what we think is a lower base of monthly subscription revenues than many of the company’s are. We have purposely overtime been focused on trying to maintain circulation as best as we can and so we've not been terribly aggressive in terms of increasing home delivery pricing over the years.

So then when you come on a program like this we're only going up 12.5, call it the 15% compared to some companies, it's up 30. What that means is that we're doing less but that helps us achieve that strong circulation volume performance relative to the offer that we talked about earlier. We want to make sure that we maintain our audiences as best as we can, because that’s what helps drive the advertising side. So we have done been less aggressive on purpose in that area, we have got I guess about half, is that.

Bob Weil

A little bit past half.

Pat Talamantes

A little bit past half comes through that offer now and as you may recall Michael from the last call, the way we described this was that there would be more impact in the second quarter from this program than in the first and then more still in the third quarter and then it got, it levels off as we cycle it in the fourth. So we have been frustratingly good about not telling you precisely what that mean, you are welcome to that. And it will be a building up impact over the course of the rest of the year.

Michael Kass - Blue Mountain Capital

And just on a different note, you had mentioned earlier I think that newsprint volumes were down about 12%, I was curious how that reconciles with the circulation decline, which is about half that? What's changing the newsprint consumption per run?

Pat Talamantes

Yeah, so in terms of the volume performance there, I think part of it is advertising declines, part of it is the decrease in daily, part of it is Sunday single copy that we talked about earlier, so all of those factor in this wealth and there might be, there may be some bill tightening as well in terms of the use of promotional space that we have in our papers also. So when we get into a period of time where we need to economize a little bit, we will be a little bit tighter on that promotional space then we would have been otherwise.

So overall that’s what contribute to that 12% decline, I don't know that that’s something that you can model going forward, I’d be a little concerned about you are doing that, if you are thinking about the next three quarters. Particularly as we know that Sunday circulation volume phenomenon, we’ve cycled on now until we don't have that going forward, so I will keep that in mind.

Operator

We have no further questions at this time. I will turn the call back to the presenters for closing remarks.

Pat Talamantes

Great, well, thank you everyone for taking the time to be on our call today and we are stand ready to take any calls or questions that you have over the course of the next few days. Thanks a lot.

Operator

This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.

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