To the extent Tronc (NASDAQ:TRNC) can be handicapped, the analyst community did a pretty good job of figuring out how well the newspaper company did during the second quarter of the year.
TRNC stock was off a bit in after-hours trading following the post-close release of last quarter’s results, but not by much. And it wasn’t enough to undo the gain logged during the day’s regular-hours trading action, and nowhere near enough to unwind this week’s big jump.
Of course, the fiscal figures are not just a moving target for the company, which is buying and selling properties at a pretty quick clip. The publicly traded company as we know it today may not exist a few months from now. An acquisition offer is reportedly on the table. While Tronc’s quarterly announcement made no mention of it, the rumor has more than a little credibility.
Tronc Earnings Recap
In the same quarter a year earlier, the company reported a top line of $367.8 million and earnings of 21 cents per share. A year earlier, however, Tronc also owned the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Those newspapers were sold in June, shrinking the company’s revenue-bearing capacity but also leaving it debt free and with more than $200 million in the bank. Adjusted for that sale, the company generated $243.4 million in the second quarter of last year and reported an operating profit of 11 cents per share.
CEO Justin Dearborn commented on the quarterly numbers:
“The company accomplished a great deal during the second quarter 2018, all of which provides a solid foundation to drive future growth. After closing the California transaction, we now have one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry.”
He may be right, though a solid balance sheet may not be enough. Operating expenses, adjusted for the divestiture, grew from $215.8 million to $230.8 million.
The second quarter report largely takes a backseat to the much bigger news that surfaced on Wednesday. That is, Tronc is reportedly considering a buyout offer from an unnamed private equity firm. That offer is said to value TRNC stock at between $19 and $20 per share.
It’s not the first time the idea has come up. In June, McCormick Media attempted to buy former Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro’s one-fourth stake in the company.
This would have given the buyer considerable control of Tronc and allowed it to steer the newspaper publisher toward a complete buyout. That deal fell through when McCormick couldn’t secure the financing it needed to make the purchase.
Tronc’s other major shareholder, Patrick Soon-Shiong, was also the June buyer of the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, underscoring the idea that an acquisition — one way or another — is inevitable.
The interest in shedding Tronc certainly makes sense.
While the advent of the internet has taken a toll on the printed newspaper business, some traditional newspaper publishers have adapted and found ways to survive in a digitally dominated world.
One such defensive maneuver is the aggregation of several different newspapers under one umbrella as a means of culling expenses. During the quarter, Tronc added The Virginian-Pilot media companies to its portfolio.
Another defensive maneuver is a foray into web-based offerings. Tronc has done both but only with modest success to show for it. In different hands, it might fare better.
The $214 million worth of cash Tronc currently sports also pares down the actual net cost of buying the company. Its current market cap is just under $600 million, but the rumored offer values Tronc at more than $700 million.
Still, Tronc is losing ground. A buyer would have to implement dramatic improvements to make its newspapers viable growth properties again.
Looking Ahead for TRNC Stock
For the quarter underway, analysts — or, to be clear, the one analyst covering TRNC stock — is calling for a profit of 19 cents per share on revenue of $222.85 million. That compares unfavorably to the year-earlier unadjusted top line of $353.1 million, though earnings would be a marked improvement on the income of six cents per share reported in Q2 of 2017.
They’re estimates to be taken with a grain of salt, though. adjusted or otherwise. A year ago the company still owned the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune and didn’t own The Virginian-Pilot media,
And, the company’s bottom line is still being impacted by the sheer costs and accounting benefits of shedding some assets while simultaneously adjusting for the “new normal” of the newspaper publishing business.
That same uncertainty also taints the full-year profit projection of 38 cents per share, and next year’s expected loss of two cents per share for TRNC stock. Tronc said it expects revenue of between $1.02 billion to $1.06 billion for 2018, versus analyst expectations of $1.03 billion.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.
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