Fairfax Media, publisher of the Illawarra Mercury, has reported 48.5 per cent growth in underlying profit to $86.4 million for the half year ended December 31, with the print, digital and radio businesses focusing on cutting costs and targeting new revenue streams.
Real estate business Domain recorded 33 per cent growth in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to $29.4 million, while the group’s underlying digital earnings surged by 50 per cent.
Investors welcomed the result, with Fairfax shares surging 22 per cent to 87¢ in early trade on Thursday morning.
Fairfax’s statutory net profit was $193.8 million, boosted by business sales. The company sold InvestSMART, Stayz Group and FRG Asia during the reporting period with net proceeds of $221 million.
“It is a credit to the skill and resilience of everyone at Fairfax that the company has recorded its first year-on-year increase in underlying EBITDA for continuing businesses since June 2010,” Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood said.
“We have shown a determination to transform the business through cost reductions and driving new revenue streams.
“It is these strategies that underpin a half-year result that’s starkly at odds with the conventional wisdom that traditional media companies face a bleak future simply because reductions in print advertising cannot be immediately offset by increases in digital revenue.”
Mr Hywood said the company finished the half with cost savings of $260 million on an annualised basis.
Fairfax is also the publisher of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, Brisbane Times, WAtoday and The Australian Financial Review.
Revenue was down by 1.2 per cent to $1.083 billion, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation grew by 2.3 per cent $178 million.
Underlying revenue for the company’s metropolitan media fell by 7.1 per cent, which was partially attributable to the closure of publications.
The print media industry suffered double-digit declines in advertising revenue last year, and the Fairfax results follow a 7 per cent drop for News Corporation Australia’s local newspapers, in a sign the medium may be approaching a bottom.
Media buyers are predicting the declines in print revenue to slow this year.
“Pursuit of profitability lies at the heart of our transformation program and we have demonstrated a preparedness to forego revenue if doing so will boost profitability,” Mr Hywood said.
“We will continue to make decisions on this basis in the future.”
Fairfax Radio, which last year signed a five-year deal to broadcast cricket, owns a national AM network including 2UE in Sydney and 3AW in Melbourne. The group’s EBITDA fell by 9.6 per cent to $9.2 million, while revenue dropped 1.1 per cent to $54.5 million.