PBL got badly bitten by its gambling business in the December half where the high rollers beat the house, and beat it badly. The company, controlled by James Packer, posted a 12% decline in first-half profit to $340 million.

But on a so-called “normalised” basis, adjusting for win rates at its casinos in Melbourne and Perth, PBL said net profit rose 1.3% to $353.6 million.

In a media release yesterday, PBL announced:

PBL today announced a Normalised Net Profit after Tax (i.e. ‘NPAT’ at theoretical and before non-recurring items) for the half year to 31 December 2006 of $353.6 million, an increase of 1.3% for the period.

Reported NPAT of $340 million is down 12% (previous period $387 million) and was negatively impacted by $13.3 million from a below theoretical win rate whereas the prior period benefited by $38.2 million from an above theoretical win of $21 million and a non recurring gain of $17 million.

The statement spent a long time talking about the deal with CVC, which is the private equity group that saw half the Nine Network, ACP magazines and some other related assets sold off into a joint venture called PBL Media.

Executive chairman James Packer said the past six months, during which the company had restructured its media business, had been a significant period for the group.

“The recapitalisation of PBL’s television, magazine and some online assets is a defining transaction,” Mr Packer said. “We are pursuing avenues to invest, but we will be a patient and deliberate investor, totally focused on enhancing shareholder value and returns.”

Wonderful spinning but the fact is that PBL did worse than its bitter rival, the Seven Network, controlled by the last Kerry in media, Kerry Stokes.

Seven lifted its earnings and revenues to record levels: Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation at Seven rose 36% to $203 million with most of that coming from a 29% rise in Seven’s TV EBITDA to $197.3 million.

At PBL, the Nine Network made an EBITDA figure of $145.8 million, down 2.1% and boosted by the profits earned on the cricket tests in November and December. (An extra $40 million of revenue, according to industry estimates).

PBL’s ACP Magazines, which is now in PBL media, lifted earnings by just 1.4% to $135.7 million, indicating that the long period of growth driven by John Alexander is over for the time being. (Seven’s Pacific Magazines business had a flat EBITDA at $20.5 million)

The gaming business saw interim EBITDA fall 7.2% to $295.8 million. However on the normalised basis it was up 9.7% to $265.4 million.

The ‘normalising’ process employed by PBL tries to take out the volatility of the gaming results, especially in the high roller areas at Crown and Burswood in Perth.

But there is one other measure which shows how things have changed since James Packer took over.

The casino interests, here and overseas, and Betfair attracted 11 paragraphs of comment in the announcement. The Nine Network received two paragraphs and ACP Magazines, one. Both are now in PBL Media and almost out of public gaze.

But the directly owned Foxtel (25%) attracted three paragraphs which disclosed that the Pay TV business earned more than $100 million on an EBITDA basis in the half and PBL took in a profit of $6.8 million on an equity accounted basis.

Premier Media Group, which controls Fox Sport (and is owned 50-50 with News Ltd) contributed $19.1 million to PBL on an equity accounted basis after tax. It had three paragraphs of comment.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey