Time Inc slashes dividend in cost-cutting push, shares dive

(Reuters) - Time Inc's TIME.N shares plunged 17 percent on Wednesday after the magazine publisher slashed its dividend amid a push to cut costs, following its decision to not sell itself.

Candidate Donald Trump signs a magazine with his picture on it at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, July 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The publisher of People and Fortune also reported its fourth straight drop in quarterly sales and a bigger-than-expected loss.

Time said last month it would pursue a strategic plan that included spending cuts and a sharper focus on its digital business.

The company's decision not to sell itself also ended speculation about a merger with U.S. broadcasting and publishing group Meredith Corp MDP.N, which according to a source, had offered Time $18 per share.

Time’s shares, which have fallen 17.5 percent since it announced the decision, fell another 17 percent to $12.50 in morning trading.

Chief Executive Richard Battista faced pointed questions on a post-earnings call, with investor and billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman demanding more clarity around the company’s strategic plan.

“You provide no numbers for the shareholders to basically grasp what this company will look like in two or three years, if you execute your strategic plan,” Cooperman said on the call.

Battista, however, expressed confidence about the plan, saying “transformations take time and patience.”

Cooperman, whose Omega Advisors owns a 3.9 percent stake in Time Inc, said he was “pretty confident that this company could be sold today at least $18 a share.”

Time Inc has struggled as advertisers increasingly move to Google and Facebook and away from print media.

The company’s print advertising revenue fell 21 percent to $212 million in the first quarter ended March 31, while digital advertising sales surged 32 percent to $119 million.

Total revenue dipped nearly 8 percent to $636 million.

Battista said speculation about Time’s sale had impacted results.

Net loss attributable to Time Inc widened to $28 million, or 29 cents per share in the quarter, from $10 million, or 10 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, Time’s loss was 18 cents per share, bigger than the 15 cents expected by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Time lowered its quarterly dividend to 4 cents per share from 19 cents.

The company said it had hired an adviser to help assess costs.

Time also announced changes to its board of directors, appointing John Fahey — formerly the chairman of the National Geographic Society — as non-executive chairman.

Former CEO Joe Ripp will retire from the board, Time said.

Reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar