Gannett Earnings Call Insights: Auto Trends, Circulation Growth Impact

On Monday, Gannett Co Inc (NYSE:GCI) reported its third quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Auto Trends

Doug Arthur – Evercore: A question for Dave in Broadcasting. I mean it’s a pretty noisy quarter with very strong political, but what can you say about the trend in core at this point or is it just too much crowding out to the really, comment on a trend?

David T. Lougee – President, Gannett Broadcasting: No, you’re exactly right there is just between both of the Olympics from the inventory standpoint and the amount of political it’s very difficult to have any kind of meaningful look at third quarter – I’m sorry the fourth quarter we can look at December right now it’s early, but pacing is fairly decent in December which is clean month, but it is early.

Doug Arthur – Evercore: Can you comment or elaborate on auto trends?

David T. Lougee – President, Gannett Broadcasting: Auto continues to be strong and has been all year and obviously was extremely strong in the third quarter with the help of the Olympics. But even when you extract the Olympics, auto was very strong.

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Gracia C. Martore – President and CEO: Yeah, Doug to put it in perspective. Auto was about 42% in the third quarter, obviously that benefits from some of that Olympic spending that Dave talked about, but even extracting out Olympic spending auto continues to be strong and I think it reflects the number of units that everyone is projecting at this point are going to be sold. So, auto we believe is going to continue to be a very good story for Broadcasting and other businesses for a while.

David T. Lougee – President, Gannett Broadcasting: Don’t know the exact number, but we know, even if we extract the Olympics we know it was in the 20s.

Circulation Growth Impact

John Janedis – UBS: Gracia as we look at the 5.6% circulation growth, can you tell us what percentage of subscribers in those 59 markets have been impacted by the increase at this point?

Gracia C. Martore – President and CEO: I’m sorry in the 71 markets that we’ve or 70 or so markets that we’ve already launched?

John Janedis – UBS: Yeah, I’m just trying to get a run rate if you will from the third quarter if it’s less than that more than half kind of doubling the amount of that kind of revenue impact in kind of run rating it forward?

Gracia C. Martore – President and CEO: Yeah, I mean obviously what you’re focusing in on is the fact that there is price protection that would be in place for those that have three-month subscription, six-month, one-year subscriptions. Bob I think jump in here please that year subscriptions are probably what percentage of our subscriptions?

Robert J. Dickey – President, U.S. Community Publishing: Less than 10%. 80% lifetime but it’s moving because of the easy pay program which is grown by about nine percentage points which is actually a better position for us on a month-to-month basis than on annual description. Also, the first six waves have made it through the first 13-weeks cycle plus the grace period that clients or subscribers have. So, about – probably somewhere around two-thirds of our markets that have launched are starting – we’re able to track the retention and we’re seeing retention about 1.5 to 2 points better than prelaunch levels. So, the easy pay promotion is really working for us and that will pay dividends next year.

John Janedis – UBS: Then, Gracia on the expense front, in the publishing segment, they’re up slightly for the first time in several quarters. I noticed some of that was investment but can you talk about the fourth quarter within the segment and whether or not the increase is a new trend there?

Gracia C. Martore – President and CEO: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new trend at all. As we’ve said from the get-go, we are reinvesting in the future of our businesses and I think what we demonstrated this quarter is that those reinvestments are paying off in significant dividends as Bob has indicated on the circulation side as we’re seeing on the digital marketing services side, but there are a number of expense initiatives that frankly are ramping up on our Gannett Publishing Services side and it’s difficult when you’re investing to make those investment dollars be specific to the quarter that everyone that everyone would like them to be in. So, it is not the beginning of a new trend and we will just continue to do the investments we need to do but expect to continue to have very strong expense controls in place and to begin seeing more of the benefit of our Gannett Publishing consolidation activities over the next few quarters.

John Janedis – UBS: So, is there then investment to call out for the fourth quarter if it was nine this quarter, is it zero is it five-ish or do you have a number?

Gracia C. Martore – President and CEO: It’s probably in the single digits of millions for investment, but again that’s something that we’re going to have to keep recalibrating. As we look at digital marketing services we are as I said, very bullish on that opportunity and so, one of the things that we’re looking at there is how do we ramp this up faster because we think from the demand we are seeing in the marketplace is extraordinary and the fact that we are so well positioned in those local markets with the relationships that we have with the suite of products that we have built with the acquisitions we’re doing there may be some additional investment we do around that, but it’s with a clear eye to dramatic returns over the next year or two.

A Closer Look: Gannett earnings Cheat Sheet>>