APN returns to profit, plans $A132m capital raising to take over TRN

Michael Miller
APN News & Media Limited 12-month price history (NZX.com)

APN News & Media [NZX: APN], the Australian publisher of the New Zealand Herald newspaper, returned to profit in 2013 after streamlining its businesses and plans to raise A$132 million to buy out its partner in transtasman radio assets, TRN

TRN runs Newstalk ZB, Classic Hots. ZM, Radio Sport and Radio Hauraki in this market, as well as iHeartRadio. 

The Sydney-based company eked out a net profit of A$2.6 million in calendar 2013, turning from a loss of A$507.4 million in the previous year, when it slashed the value of its goodwill and mastheads.

The media group has been restructuring its business over the past year, quitting assets including its stake in an outdoor advertising venture, its unprofitable brandsExclusive online shopping site, and a suite of New Zealand magazines. Profit in the latest year included a A$69.6 million charge to write down the fair value of the businesses it divested in the year.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation from continuing operations rose 8 percent to A$162.8 million, while revenue from continuing operations slipped 0.7 percent to A$817.2 million. Operating cash flow edged up to A$88.4 million from A$87.3 million, while net cash generated was A$63 million, ahead of the company's A$40 million to A$50 million target. Net debt was A$436.9 million as at Dec. 31.

"These are APN's best results in a number of years with NPAT and EBITDA growth at their highest level since 2007 and 2005 respectively," chief executive Michael Miller said in a statement.

"The results reflect strong earnings growth in our radio businesses as they increased market share, a record result at Adshel, an improved second half performance from our publishing businesses as cost saving benefits start to flow through and the impact of the sale of a number of non-core businesses," he said.

APN also announced plans to buy out its US partner Clear Channel's stake in Australian Radio Network and The Radio Network in New Zealand for A$246.5 million. It will fund the acquisition from the A$60 million reaped from the sale of its outdoor advertising business, A$61 million in existing bank debt, and will raise a further A$132 million from shareholders.

"It is anticipated that the acquisition will also provide APN with greater flexibility to pursue new revenue generating opportunities through closer collaboration between its media businesses in both Australia and New Zealand," the company said.

The 5-for-9 pro rata accelerated non-renounceable entitlement offer at 36 Australian cents apiece is at a 13 percent discount to the stock's theoretical ex-rights price and has the backing of major shareholders Allan Gray Australia, Independent News & Media and Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien's Baycliffe, the company said. The shares last traded at 44 Australian cents on the ASX before being halted for the capital raising.

Independent News, which raised 43 million euros of fresh capital last year to protect its APN stake, won't participate and will be diluted to 18.6 percent from 29 percent. Its entitlement will be taken up by Baycliffe, lifting its stake to 12.2 percent from 1.9 percent and keeping O'Brien's total interest in APN through the two companies at 30.8 percent.

The capital raising is a turnaround for the Independent News and Allan Gray, who last year forced a board-room shake-out of the Australian media group earlier this year after baulking at APN's plans to raise capital to shore up its own debt-plagued books.

The institutional entitlement offer opens today and closes tomorrow, while the retail offer opens on Feb. 27 and closes on March 14.

APN's radio units both reported earnings and revenue growth in 2013, with the Australian Radio Network lifted sales 6 percent to A$148.9 million and EBITDA 14 percent to A$58 million. TRN increased revenue 18 percent to A$102.3 million and earnings 32 percent to A$20 million, with some currency gains from a stronger New Zealand dollar.

The company's Australian regional publishing unit reported a 13 percent drop in revenue to A$217 million and a 23 percent decline in EBITDA to A$29.7 million, while its New Zealand media revenue slipped 2 percent to A$282.6 million, while earnings rose 11 percent to A$53 million.

The outdoor group increased revenue 13 percent to A$44.1 million while earnings fell 3 percent to A$12.3 million, and the digital unit increased revenue 6 percent to A$22.4 million and revenue 221 percent to A$5.3 million.

The company said softer agency conditions have caused a challenging start to 2014, and it is pursuing more cost savings from its publishing units.

"The APN of today is in a far better position that it was a year ago," Miller said. "Looking ahead, we are firmly focused on growth revenues across our divisions."

The company didn't declare a dividend.

(BusinessDesk)

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