* Q3 profit meets forecasts, Q3 revenue misses
* Q4 EPS forecast 52-57 cents
* Fiscal 2009 EPS forecast $2-$2.05
* Shares rise more than 20 percent (Adds analysts’ estimates, debt details, share activity, byline)
By Robert MacMillan
NEW YORK, April 29 (Reuters) - Meredith Corp (MDP.N) reported a quarterly profit decline on Wednesday because of lower advertising sales, but its ad revenue forecasts suggest that the free fall that publishers and broadcasters have been struggling with may be easing.
Its shares rose more than 20 percent in early trading after it said ad revenue declines at its magazine and local television station divisions look no worse than they did last quarter.
That is welcome news to newspaper and magazine publishers who have seen changing reader habits and the financial crisis lop off as much as a third of their ad sales — prompting some, such as Conde Nast’s Portfolio business magazine, to close.
Even though the bottom looks near, Meredith and other publishers and local TV owners have not said when ad revenue might rise again.
Meredith, which publishes magazines Better Homes and Gardens and the Ladies’ Home Journal, said fiscal third-quarter net income was $25.4 million, or 56 cents a share, down 45 percent from a year ago. Four analysts polled by Reuters Estimates had expected a range of 47 to 58 cents a share.
Revenue fell 14 percent to $338 million, missing a range of expectations by three analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.
Meredith also said it plans to have paid off about $100 million in debt during the fiscal year, an encouraging sign as other publishers struggle to pay off billions of dollars in money that they borrowed before the financial downturn gutted the advertising market.
Meredith’s total debt at the end of March was $455 million, down $30 million from the end of the previous fiscal year.
Publishing ad revenue fell 12 percent, which it said was an improvement over results in the first half of the fiscal year. Broadcasting ad revenue fell 31 percent. Broadcasting results were hit by lower automotive ad spending, the company said.
Meredith forecast fourth-quarter earnings per share of 52 cents to 57 cents, and full-year earnings per share of $2 to $2.05, excluding a charge in the second quarter.
It expects fourth-quarter publishing ad revenue to be down 12 percent. So far, broadcasting ad pacings — which measure TV spending — are down 32 percent.
Meredith shares were up $4.23, or 20.05 percent, at $25.33 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Maureen Bavdek)