Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. reported a fourth-quarter loss of $43.5 million as national and local television advertisers curtailed spending after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The loss of 55 cents per share compared with net income of $59.1 million, or 64 cents per share, inr the corresponding period a year earlier. With recession hammering media companies nationwide last fall, Sinclair reported that sales for the three months that ended Dec. 31 fell 15 percent, to $184.6 million from $216.1 million in fourth-quarter 2000.
For the year, the company reported a net loss of $127.7 million, or $1.64 per share, compared with net income of $77.4 million, or 73 cents per share, posted for 2000. Sales in the year were $710.3 million, down 10 percent from $788.9 million in 2000.
With the strength of the economy still in doubt, company officials were reluctant to forecast how the coming quarter and year might shape up for the broadcast industry. But Sinclair President and Chief Executive Officer David D. Smith said the company has likely seen the bottom.
"Everything we see on a weekly basis is moving in the right direction, but I can't tell you that tomorrow that something loony toon isn't going to happen and we're going to be right back where we were again in September of last year," he said in a conference call with analysts.
Earnings before depreciation, amortization, write-downs and other items was $16.7 million, or 20 cents per share. That's down from after-tax cash flow of $47.6 million, or 54 cents, in fourth-quarter 2000, but ahead of analyst estimates of 17 cents per share.
"The fourth-quarter results actually came in a little better than we had expected and a little better than the company had guided investors previously," said Paul T. Sweeney, an industry analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston. "The real question for investors now is the pace of the turnaround in advertising."
Shares of the company increased 23 cents to $10.57 yesterday.
Sinclair, which owns, operates or programs 63 TV stations in 40 markets, reported in November that it expected pro forma net broadcast revenues for the fourth quarter to be down 17.5 percent to 18.5 percent compared with the previous year.
Yesterday it reported it did better than that, reporting net broadcasting revenue slid 15.8 percent to $168 million.
Ad sales related to the Super Bowl, Olympics sporting events and movie releases are helping to improve the outlook for the first quarter.
"Excluding political advertising revenues, our local markets are pacing up approximately 5 percent in the first quarter vs. last year," Smith said.