Times Mirror Co. said Monday that its fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations, excluding one-time gains and expenses, edged up 3% from a year earlier as a strong performance at its Eastern newspapers was offset by higher costs and softer advertising results at its flagship Los Angeles Times.
The Times last year launched a series of restructuring steps, including cuts of about 850 full- and part-time jobs, to reduce costs and improve performance. That restructuring contributed to the one-time charges against earnings.
In the quarter ended Dec. 31, Times Mirror said, income rose to $80 million, or 93 cents a diluted share, from $77.4 million, or 79 cents, a year earlier.
Due to a stock-repurchase program, Times Mirror's total common shares outstanding as of Dec. 31 dropped to 73.4 million from 87.9 million a year earlier.
The earnings appeared to top the consensus estimate of 84 cents a share among Wall Street analysts surveyed by First Call Corp. But it wasn't immediately known if the analysts' estimates took into account all of the extraordinary gains and charges reported by Times Mirror.
Those items included an after-tax gain of $242 million from the company's sale of its Mosby Inc. health sciences publishing unit, along with restructuring charges. Including all of those items, Times Mirror's fourth-quarter net income rose to $246.3 million, or $2.99 a share, from $72.2 million, or 73 cents, a year earlier.
Times Mirror's fourth-quarter revenue from continuing operations increased 2%, to $809.7 million from $791.4 million.
"In 1998, we had many notable accomplishments and Times Mirror achieved record earnings," Mark H. Willes, Times Mirror's chairman, president and chief executive officer and publisher of The Times, said in a statement.
"However, while we met our earnings objectives and our Eastern newspapers had a particularly strong year, we did not achieve these results with the mix that we expected and, in fact, were disappointed with the decline in operating earnings at the Los Angeles Times," he said.
Noting The Times' restructuring, Willes also said that in 1999, "we expect continued earnings growth and to invest aggressively in the growth of our businesses."
In addition to The Times, Times Mirror publishes Newsday in New York, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and other Eastern newspapers.
In the fourth quarter, operating profit at the company's newspaper group, excluding one-time restructuring charges, was $118.3 million, nearly unchanged from a year earlier.
For all of 1998, Times Mirror's earnings from continuing operations, excluding one-time items, rose to $253 million from $236.8 million in 1997, on a 4% gain in revenue from continuing operations to $3 billion from $2.9 billion.
Times Mirror's 1998 net income climbed to $1.42 billion, or $16.06 a share, from $250.3 million, or $2.29 a share. The 1998 profit reflected all of the extraordinary gains and charges during the year, which also included a $1.4-billion after-tax gain from the sale of Mosby and Times Mirror's holdings in the Matthew Bender/Shepard's legal-publishing operations.
The results were announced after financial markets closed. Earlier, Times Mirror's shares closed at $55.06, up 19 cents, in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
At a Glance
* Gemstar International Group Ltd., marketer of the VCR Plus technology, said fiscal third-quarter profit rose 57%, beating analysts' forecasts, on increased licensing of its VCR Plus and interactive TV software. The Pasadena-based company said profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31 was $18.8 million, or 33 cents a share. That compares with $12 million, or 23 cents, a year earlier and exceeds the 31-cent average estimate of analysts. Revenue rose to $41.5 million from $30.5 million a year earlier.
* Homestake Mining Co. reported a fourth-quarter net gain of $1.4 million, or 1 cent per share, contrasted with a net loss of $58.4 million, or 28 cents, in the same quarter last year. San Francisco-based Homestake's sales for the quarter ended Dec. 31 were $202.8 million, down from $210.3 million the previous year.