* Q3 net income $0.31 vs $0.69 last year
* Q3 non-GAAP profit $0.44, vs $0.41 forecast
* Publishing ad revenue down 28.4 pct
* Shares up 2.2 pct in premarket trading
(Adds details on profit, advertising, debt)
By Robert MacMillan
NEW YORK, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Gannett Co Inc (GCI.N), the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, reported a lower quarterly profit that beat market forecasts on Monday because of cost cuts, while revenue fell because of a 28 percent drop in publishing advertising sales.
Gannett’s profit beat reflects painful attempts to slash expenses during the past year, from furloughing and laying off workers to slashing pay. Similar moves at other publishers, such as McClatchy Co MNI.N, which reported results last week, have helped them beat Wall Street’s forecasts.
Newspaper publishers are looking for ever more ways to cut costs to remain in shareholders’ good graces as their ad revenue slips away.
The big unanswered question is whether, following the recession, revenue will return because advertisers are following people online as print newspaper circulation falls.
Gannett, publisher of USA Today, posted third-quarter net income of $73.8 million, or 31 cents a share, compared with $158.1 million, or 69 cents a share, last year.
Profit excluding items was 44 cents a share, ahead of the average analyst estimate of 41 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S/. Those items included non-cash charges for consolidating facilities and job cuts. The company’s operating expenses were 14 percent lower in the quarter, totaling $1.2 billion.
The results beat Gannett’s old forecast of 39 to 42 cents a share. That forecast, delivered in a rare pre-announcement, beat the expectation at the time of 29 cents.
Revenue fell 18 percent to $1.33 billion, in line with analysts’ estimates, according to I/B/E/S/.
“Although recessions in the U.S. and UK continued to temper ad demand and revenue growth during the quarter, we are encouraged by the revenue trends,” said Gannett Chairman and Chief Executive Craig Dubow, back at the company after taking a medical leave of absence following back surgery in June.
Annual comparisons of publishing ad revenue were a few percentage points better in the third quarter compared with the second quarter, Dubow said.
Publishing revenue fell 23.5 percent to $1 billion on a drop in ad sales. U.S. publishing ad revenue fell 26 percent. Broadcast revenue fell 23 percent, in part because of extra money the company’s TV stations made from the Olympics and the U.S. elections last year.
Gannett also said it raised $500 million in debt, due in 2014 and 2017, and that nearly a quarter of its debt matures in the fourth quarter of 2014 or later -- welcome news for investors worried that the company’s debt load could be too much to bear as ad revenue falls.
Gannett shares rose 2.2 percent in premarket trading. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Dave Zimmerman)