By one measure, the Seven Network’s interim result seems to have been concocted at an accountants’ tea party, with the Mad Hatter presiding over a set of figures as opaque as Alice’s looking glass.

Seven’s holdings include stakes in the Seven Media Group, West Australian Newspapers and a clutch of technology and other listed companies says it reported a profit, after write-downs and impairment asset cuts totalling a massive $1.2 billion. 

Included in that was writing down the value of the Seven Media Group to nothing because of the worsening outlook for the economy and TV advertising. That was a cut of $793.8 million with a $312.8 million dollar write-down in the value of its holding in West Australian newspapers, a $120 million write-down in the value of other listed investments, and a $35 million write-down in the value of Unwired and a $3 million write-down in goodwill.

But there was no information about how the Seven TV Network and Pacific Magazines, the two main assets, went in the half. Seven may not have had to make any disclosure, but the absence of any figures is a disgrace.

At least the Ten Network took its whack last week when revealing a possible 28% fall in operating profit (and a possible loss after tax) and a 12% fall in revenues in the TV business.

In this ASX filing, there was no financial detail for the country’s best performing TV Network and the still growing magazine business.

Because of the way the group is structured, (it doesn’t quite own Seven Media Group, its executives and KKR are the other shareholders) and through the byways of taxation and accounting laws, Seven managed to massage this into a much smaller set of write-downs.

In fact, by one measure it earned a profit of $20 million for the half, by another $77 million, and by another $97 million.

Seven Network said first half profit fell 81%, after writing down the value of its investments due to declines in financial and advertising markets. Net profit for the six months ended December 27 was $20 million, down from $126.3 million in the previous corresponding period. Excluding significant items, including $57.1 million in investment write downs, its net profit was $77.1 million, down 13.3%. A figure of $97 million is mentioned in the ASX filing for the assiduous to find.

In other words, you takes your pick and you takes your chances.

The profit was somewhere north of $34.51 million because that was the cost of the steady 17 cents a share from Seven Network, with executive chairman, Kerry Stokes happy because he will be able to count more than $16 million of that as his for his stake of around 46%, boosted during the half year by a share buyback that picked up 1.2 million Seven Network shares. its main source of income was the $40.5 million in dividends received from WAN and from its mysterious portfolio of listed shares.

Seven Network says it has “no debt”: and $1.2 billion and no interest in disclosure.

That leads to the idea that the Seven Media Group actually lost money in the half year, but we don’t know from the filing and the non-Kerry Stokes shareholders are non the wiser. Times are tough, people were told on a tele conference.

Included in the 2007 interim statement for the previous corresponding period was this paragraph:

Included in this presentation is data prepared for the main operating divisions of Seven Media Group. This data is included for information purposes only and has not been subject to the same level of company review as the statutory accounts. It is provided only for indicative purposes. The company and employees do not warrant this data and disclaim any liability flowing from the use of this data by any party.

It wasn’t there in the latest statement.  I can now understand why Seven called off its usual separate briefings for analysts and the media and went to a useless tele conference. It said this was done because of the weight of media results today.  It could have easily announced on Monday or last week. Non journalists or investment analysts and shareholders in Seven with an interest in the company (apart from the board and management), would have no idea how the company’s supposed reason for being: TV and magazines, did in the half.  Seven Network is now a dud investor in other media (WAN), technology companies and a clutch of unidentified listed companies. The company took $460 million in write downs in these areas in the half.  What an appalling way to run a modern media company.

Peter Fray

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