Wall Street’s expectations game worked in favor of the New York Times Co. today: Shares are up 12.6% in afternoon trading after the publisher surprised investors with a Q1 report that exceeded their top- and bottom-line forecasts, helped by a so-called “Trump bump” pickup in digital-only subscriptions.
The Times had 1.9 million subscribers for what it calls its “digital-only news product” — as opposed to the “digital crossword product” — which is up 65% versus the period last year.
The company warned, though, that digital news subscription growth in the current quarter likely will be “slower than the prior two quarters” while ad sales decrease and operating costs rise.
Still, in Q1 digital helped to lift the company to a $13.2 million profit from an $8.3 million loss last year, with revenues of $398.8 million, up 5.1%. The Street was looking for about $382 million. Adjusted earnings at 11 cents a share also beat predictions for 7 cents.
The digital subscriptions are important because they’ve been “increasingly offsetting the secular declines at the legacy print business” helping the Times’ effort to be seen as a digital-first company, says Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar.
CEO Mark Thompson hit on that point today in describing what he called “the single best quarter for subscriber growth in our history.”
The results “show the current strength and future potential of our digital strategy not just to reach a large audience, but also deliver substantial revenue,” he says.
He needed the good digital news: Print advertising — which accounts for 20% of revenues — fell 17.9% in the quarter, contributing to a 6.9% drop in total ad sales. Print circulation also fell, although the Times didn’t break out that number.
Operating costs rose 4.5%, mostly for additional marketing.
The Times‘ results had a halo effect on other news publishers. Gannett shares are up 7.3% and A.H. Belo is up 1.2%. But Tronc, formerly Tribune Publishing, was down less than 1% ahead of its earnings report after the market closes today.