McClatchy News kicked off the New York Stock Exchange

The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI – News) today reported a net loss from continuing operations in the fourth quarter of 2008 of $20.4 million, or 25 cents per share, including a pre-tax non-cash impairment charge of $59.6 million related to newspaper mastheads. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations(1) were $21.8 million, or 26 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2008 after excluding several unusual items discussed below. Total net loss including discontinued operations was $21.7 million, or 26 cents per share in the 2008 fourth quarter.

Management conducted its annual impairment testing of goodwill and other long-lived assets as of the end of its fiscal year, December 28, 2008. Upon completion of that testing, the company recorded a pre-tax non-cash impairment charge of $59.6 million to newspaper mastheads. The company did not record an impairment charge related to goodwill in 2008.

For the fourth quarter of 2007, the company reported an after-tax loss from continuing operations of $1.43 billion, or $17.42 per share, including the effect of non-cash after-tax impairment charges related to goodwill and newspaper mastheads of $1.47 billion, or $17.86 per share. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations(1) were $36.1 million, or 44 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2007 after excluding the non-cash impairment charges. The company’s total net loss, including the results of discontinued operations, was $1.43 billion, or $17.46 per share.

Revenues in the fourth quarter of 2008 were $470.9 million, down 17.9% from revenues from continuing operations of $573.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2007. Advertising revenues were $388.3 million, down 20.7% from 2007, and circulation revenues were $67.0 million, up 1.4%. Online advertising revenues grew 10.3% in the fourth quarter of 2008 and were 10.9% of total advertising revenues compared to 7.8% of total advertising revenues in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Using cash from operations and proceeds from asset sales, the company repaid $30 million of debt in the quarter and $433 million for all of 2008. Debt at the end of the fiscal year was $2.038 billion, down from $2.471 billion at the end of 2007.

Restructuring Plan

McClatchy noted that the duration and depth of the economic recession have taken a severe toll on its advertising revenues. Given the unprecedented deterioration in revenues and with no visibility of an improving economy, the company is continuing to reduce expenses. McClatchy announced that it is developing a plan to reduce costs by an additional $100 million to $110 million, or approximately seven percent of 2008 cash expenses, over the next 12 months beginning later in the first quarter of 2009. Details of the plan have not yet been finalized and as a result, costs to complete the plan are not yet known. In addition, the company will freeze its pension plans and temporarily suspend the company match to its 401(k) plans, effective March 31, 2009. The company will extend a salary freeze for senior executives in 2009 that was implemented in 2007. The company previously announced that it had implemented a company-wide salary freeze from September 2008 through September 2009. Gary Pruitt, McClatchy’s chairman and chief executive officer, also has declined any bonus for 2008 and 2009. In addition, other senior executives will not receive bonuses for 2008.

As previously reported, McClatchy will suspend its quarterly dividend after paying the first quarter 2009 dividend, which was declared on January 27, 2009, in order to preserve cash for debt repayment. The first quarter 2009 dividend of $.09 (nine cents) per share is half the per share dividend paid in the 2008 first quarter.

Full Year Results

Net income from continuing operations for fiscal 2008 was $2.8 million, or three cents per share, and was affected by the impact of the non-cash impairment charges and other unusual items discussed below. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations(1) were $55.4 million, or 67 cents per share, in fiscal 2008. Total net income including discontinued operations was $1.4 million, or two cents per share.

In addition to the impairment charges previously noted, results in 2008 included the impact of several unusual items including: a gain on the sale of a one-third interest in SP Newsprint Company; a gain on the extinguishment of debt; write-offs of deferred financing costs as a result of amendments to the company’s credit agreement; charges related to the implementation of previously announced restructuring plans; the write-down of certain internet investments; and adjustments for certain discrete tax items.

The loss from continuing operations for full year 2007 was $2.73 billion, or $33.26 per share, including the effect of the non-cash impairment charges taken in 2007. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations(1) were $110.9 million, or $1.35 per share, in fiscal 2007 after considering the non-cash impairment charges and adjustments for certain discrete tax items. The company’s total net loss, including the results of discontinued operations, was $2.74 billion, or $33.37 per share.

Revenues from continuing operations in 2008 were $1.9 billion, down 15.9% compared to $2.26 billion in 2007. Advertising revenues in 2008 totaled $1.6 billion, down 17.9% and circulation revenues were $265.6 million, down 3.7%. Online advertising revenues grew 10.6% in 2008 and represented 11.6% of total advertising revenues compared to 8.6% for all of 2007.

Management’s Comments

Commenting on McClatchy’s results, Pruitt said, “2008 was a difficult and disappointing year. We faced troubled economic times and structural changes in our business.

“Still, 2008 was a good year for our online business; online audiences and revenues rose sharply. In the fourth quarter, average monthly unique visitors to our websites were up 25.3% and were up 33.5% for all of 2008. Online advertising revenues grew 10.3% in the fourth quarter of 2008 and were up 47.3% excluding employment advertising, a category that has been impacted both online and in print by the nationwide decline in jobs.

“But the economy remains mired in recession and our industry is still in a period of transition. The advertising environment continues to be weak and we expect print advertising revenues to continue to be down. While we do not have final advertising revenue results for January, we know that the month was slower than the fourth quarter. We don’t have any better sense than other market observers as to how long the current recession will last and we do not yet have visibility of revenue trends.

“We must respond with both continued rigor in driving our revenue results as well as permanently reducing our cost structure. At McClatchy we are quickly becoming a hybrid print and online news and information company.

“Evidence of our cost reduction efforts can be found in our results. Excluding severance and other benefit charges related to our previously announced restructuring plans, cash expenses were down 14.4% in the fourth quarter and were down 11.5% in all of 2008.

“This necessary transition to a more efficient company is especially painful in a horrible economy and we have had to make some very difficult decisions to keep the company safe,” Pruitt said. “Even so, we are determined to treat our employees well and secure their retirement as best we can. So while we have announced that we are freezing our pension plans and will temporarily suspend 401(k) matching contributions as of March 31, we will continue to offer competitive benefits for our employees. We expect to offer a new 401(k) plan later this year that will include both a matching contribution (once reinstated), plus a supplemental contribution that is tied to cash flow performance. I recognize the sacrifices our employees are making to help us get though this difficult time and I appreciate their loyalty to McClatchy. I am confident that the McClatchy team is up to this challenge and we will see brighter days when the economy finally turns.”

Pat Talamantes, McClatchy’s chief financial officer, said, “Our new cost initiatives, combined with our 2008 efforts, are designed to save approximately $300 million annually before severance costs. Approximately $60 million of savings has been realized in 2008, and $44.7 million of severance costs associated with these programs has been expensed in 2008 and largely paid.”

“Despite the downturn in advertising revenues, we still continue to generate significant cash and are using it to repay debt,” Talamantes said. “Our debt at year end is $2.038 billion, down $433 million from the end of 2007. Based on our trailing 12 months of cash flow, our leverage ratio is currently 5.1 times cash flow and our interest coverage ratio is 2.8 times cash flow as defined by our bank agreement — well within the allowable covenant thresholds. We have $159 million in availability under our bank credit lines, and have no significant debt maturities until June 2011. We believe that we can work through this difficult environment, and we expect to make further progress in paying down debt in 2009.”

Other Matters

McClatchy also announced that it was notified by the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) that it is not in compliance with the NYSE’s continued listing standards. The NYSE’s notice dated February 4, 2009 indicated that on February 2, 2009, the company’s average share price over the previous 30 trading days was $0.98, which is below the NYSE’s quantitative listing standards. Such standards require NYSE listed companies to maintain an average closing price of any listed security above $1.00 per share for any consecutive thirty trading-day period. McClatchy plans to notify the NYSE of its intent to cure this deficiency and has six months from the date of the NYSE notice to cure the non-compliance. The company’s Class A common stock will continue to be listed on the NYSE during this interim period, subject to compliance with other NYSE listing requirements and the NYSE’s right to reevaluate continued listing standards.

Consistent with the growing industry practice, McClatchy will discontinue issuing monthly revenue and statistical reports after this release. McClatchy is among the last newspaper companies to report advertising results monthly, and without comparable industry information, management does not believe monthly revenues are as useful to investors. The company will continue to provide revenue trends and other statistical information on a quarterly basis with its earnings releases.

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Gary Pruitt to get the boot from the Titanic of newspaper failures. McClatchy is a case study in ignorance

CEO Gary Pruitt of the McClatchy News Inc. (mainly newspapers) has made it on Jim Cramer’s Wall of Shame, and Cramer cited MNI’s disastrous acquisition of Knight-Ridder which brought the stock down 82% as the reason for this special honor. The newspaper had been a well-run operation, but Cramer said the acquisition was among the worst he has ever seen. In addition, advertising revenue dropped 16% after subsequent declines. McClatchy has a history of making losing acquisitions, including the Minneapolis Star in 1998. Not only did Cramer give Pruitt a special place on the Wall of Shame, he gave him the middle name “Schemp” after the inept sidekick of the Three Stooges.

Pruitt may be looking for a job on the Obama campaign. The McClatchy family unanimously voted him off the board of directors on Tuesday.

McClatchy stock has crashed to less than a gallon of gas, about $3.20. There is no more wiggle room for stock offers. The stock smells like an old fish wrapped in the Sacramento Bee.

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