So where was Ten Network chairman Lachlan Murdoch this week? In London, supporting brother James and dad Rupert in their appearances at the Leveson inquiry’s most crucial round of questioning about the interaction between the media and UK politicians.
It’s a crucial week for the Murdoch family and their fortunes: the chances of grabbing control of BSkyB receded even further after first James and then dad dropped the government and Prime Minister David Cameron (and Media Minister Jeremy Hunt) right in the soup.
But why is that important in Australia? Well, beyond the obvious control the Murdochs have over the Australian newspaper and pay TV industries, Lachlan Murdoch is a shareholder in Ten and owns half of the DMG Radio. And following profit downgrades on Tuesday from Seven West Media, the best-performed on the listed analogue media groups in the country, and PMP, the struggling direct marketer and catalogues group, it seems there’s about to be more losses for the sector.
Seven West owns the market-leading Seven free-to-air TV network, Pacific Magazines, the second-ranked group in the sector and the dominant newspaper in booming Perth, the West Australian, and 40 smaller local papers. It now sees full year earnings falling about 16% or $45 million from what it told the market in February. That was after the Ten Network reported a 70% profit fall for the six months to the end of February.
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But from what Seven and PMP reported on Tuesday, conditions have worsened since the start of this year and into the current quarter, meaning the weak-performing Ten Network faces additional pressure on revenues and profits.
The Seven West downgrade came after the market has closed ahead of the Anzac Day holiday. That was due to the company’s board meeting being held in Perth. The time delay meant the statement could not be made before 4pm. PMP reported earlier in the day.
Other media groups including Fairfax Media, APN, Ten Network, STW and Southern Cross Media will all come under pressure today from investors nervous that the sector is about to experience another fall in earnings on top of the weakness already seen.
Seven West said it now expected earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) at between $460 million and $470 million for its full year to June 25. That compares with the $550 million reported for the 2010-11 financial year. “Throughout the current financial year (2012) the wider advertising market has traded below the prior year,” Seven West said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, issued after the close of trading. The group anticipated an improvement in those conditions in the final quarter of the current financial year. Based on conditions now becoming evident in all segments (TV, newspapers and magazines), the previous expectations of the market strengthening in the final quarter are unlikely to be met,” the company said in the statement.
And publisher and direct marketer PMP provided further evidence of the earnings malaise for the analogue sector of the media. It slashed its full year earnings forecasts because of what it said were worsening market conditions. “Since PMP’s last market guidance in February, market conditions have continued to deteriorate. Trading results for March were circa 20% below forecast and at the same time the fourth quarter forecast now indicates lower than expected volumes due to further deterioration in demand from the retail and publishing markets. It is evident this is a combination of structural issues, economic drivers and deferral of advertising spend into the first quarter of fiscal 2013.”
And why is PMP’s profit warning bad news for other media? Well many of PMP’s customers are big advertisers on Ten, Seven, in Fairfax and APN newspapers. If they are cutting back on direct mail, catalogues and other spending, then they are cutting back on spending in the analogue media as well.
It’s no wonder PMP says it now expects full year earnings before interest, tax and significant items to be between $30 million and $33 million, down from the full year EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) forecast of $43-47 million in February. The news saw PMP share plunge more than 16% or 5c to 25c at the close on Tuesday.
So watch the shares prices of Fairfax. APN and Ten today, they could start rivalling PMP for “cheapness”. Fairfax closed at 72c on Tuesday, up an optimistic 5c. Ten was 81.5c, down 1.5c (a bit more realistic) and APN fell 2c to 82.
But watch also if the selling pressure extends to digital media groups, such as Carsales.com, Realestate.com or Seek, which have supplanted the likes of Fairfax and APN in sectors such as classified, real estate and car advertising. If it does, then we will know that no part of the media is immune to the slump in advertising and marketing spend by Australian companies.