WRAPUP 1-US newspapers seek cost cuts as revenue challenged

NEW YORK Wed Dec 5, 2007 3:00pm EST

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NEW YORK Dec 5 (Reuters) - Several U.S. newspaper publishers said on Wednesday they will bank on cost-cutting to salvage earnings next year, with McClatchy Co (MNI.N) and E.W. Scripps Co (SSP.N) forecasting drops in newspaper revenue.

USA Today publisher Gannett Co Inc (GCI.N) also confirmed its fourth-quarter earnings would be down from a year ago and said its headcount would be lower at its newspapers in 2008.

New York Times Co (NYT.N), meanwhile, forecast savings of about $130 million in 2008 and another $100 million in 2009. It gave no outlook for earnings or revenue in 2008, but said it expects its total November 2007 revenues to show an increase of 1 to 2 percent on circulation growth.

All four companies made presentations to investors at a UBS media conference in New York on Wednesday.

"As we look to 2008, many of the economic challenges remain, particularly in our California and Florida markets," McClatchy Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt said in a statement.

"We do expect to see some improvement in revenue as the year progresses, but it will likely still be down in the mid-single-digit range for all of 2008," he said.

Cost-cutting through job losses and newsprint reductions is one of the main ways the industry is trying to combat the weakening circulation and advertising sales that have resulted from readers turning to the Internet and other media for their news. The slowing economy is yet another problem.

McClatchy, the publisher of the Sacramento Bee and Miami Herald, said it expects earnings to be stronger next year, largely due to lower interest expenses as the company has repaid debt. It did not give a specific earnings forecast.

Wall Street was looking for McClatchy's 2008 revenue to fall 5.4 percent to $2.13 billion, with earnings per share excluding special items dipping to $1.30 next year from a projected $1.44 this year, according to Reuters Estimates.

Pruitt said his company would focus on cost controls, and forecast 2008 cash expenses to be down in the mid-single-digit percentage range. He said McClatchy's debt at the end of 2008 would be about $2 billion.

Shares of McClatchy slipped 20 cents or 1.5 percent to $13.24, New York Times shares fell 40 cents or 2.4 percent to $16.55 and Gannett shares fell 5 cents or 0.1 percent to $35.70 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Shares of Scripps rose 66 cents or 1.5 percent to $43.80. The company said it expects revenue from newspapers managed solely by Scripps to be down in the low single digits next year, with newspaper expenses falling by a similar magnitude. But it forecast the Scripps Networks to post revenue growth between 8 and 10 percent, with expenses up a similar amount.

Scripps also affirmed its fourth-quarter outlook.

Gannett said it expects its earnings for the fourth quarter to land in a "range consistent with many analysts' estimates of $1.26 to $1.29" per share. Addressing 2008, it said headcount would be down at USA Today and its other newspapers, while newsprint consumption should also be down. (Additional reporting by Franklin Paul, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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