Lee posts first quarter profit thanks in part to $24-million gain from axing retiree medical benefits

Lee Enterprises, Inc. – owner of the Quad City Times and Dispatch/Argus – reported first quarter net income of $16.4 million, thanks in part to a $23.8-million gain "associated with elimination of retiree medical benefits."

Total advertising revenue for the quarter ended Dec. 27 fell to $102.6 million, a decline of 20 percent compared to the same period a year ago when factoring in the acquisition of Berkshire-Hawthaway's BH Media and the Buffalo News in early 2020. Net income per share for the three months was 28 cents, compared with 9 cents per share for the same period a year ago.

"Additionally, we recognized a $12.3 million liability associated with the withdrawal from a multi-employer pension plan, the company news release stated. "Payments toward the liability are made over 20 years."

The first quarter financial results also included the a one-time $5.2-million gain from the sale of assets.

The company reported subscription revenue increased 1.9 percent to $90.5 million with digital subscriptions now totaling 286,000.

Revenue from TownNews, a content management software platform Lee sells to other online news sites, totaled $25.6 million over the past 12 months.

Total digital revenue – digital advertising, digital subscriptions and digital services – now comprise more than 29 percent of the company's revenues, according to the Lee news release.

As of Dec. 27, 2020, the company had total debt of $523.6 million, a reduction of $52.4 million since it refinanced its debt in March of last year after acquiring the BH Media properties and the Buffalo News. The debt carries a fixed interest rate of 9 percent.

Lee now has 77 newspapers and online news sites in 26 states and is headquartered in Davenport.

CLICK HERE to download the earnings news release.

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