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Torstar posts lower fourth quarter profit

Torstar Corp. president and chief executive officer David Holland.

MARK BLINCH/Mark Blinch/Reuters

Torstar Corp. says its profits were $26.7-million in the fourth quarter, declining from a year earlier when it recognized earnings from its partial ownership of CTVglobemedia, which it is currently in the process of selling.

Net income for the owner of the Toronto Star, other community and daily newspapers, Harlequin books and numerous websites including Workopolis was equivalent to 33 cents per share for the three month period. That was down from $57.4-million or 73 cents per share a year earlier.

Excluding the year-ago results from CTVglobemedia, quarterly profits declined $400,000 from a year ago. Torstar announced in September that it agreed to sell its 20 per cent stake in the company for $345-million to BCE Inc.

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Earnings per share was 49 cents when filtering out restructuring charges, above analyst expectations of 43 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Torstar president and CEO David Holland told analysts on a conference call that growth in annual earnings was driven by strong results from the media division - home of the company's newspapers and websites - which has rebounded from the economic downturn which wore away at advertising revenues.

"Recovery in media division revenues coupled with the benefits of ongoing restructuring and other efforts to control costs resulted in a substantial growth," he said.

Revenue increased to $416.1-million from $394.8-million, with growing advertising at the Toronto Star newspaper, and newspapers Metro and Chinese paper Sing Tao showing growth above pre-recession levels.

Book publisher Harlequin's earnings were off, in line with the company's expectations, due to lower retail and direct mail sales, but were partially offset by higher digital book sales.

Torstar owns the Star Media Group led by the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper, and digital properties including Thestar.com, Toronto.com, Workopolis, Olive Media, and EyeReturn Marketing.

In the conference call with investors, Lorenzo DeMarchi, Torstar's executive vice president and CFO said it is difficult to predict revenue growth in the media segment this year "given the uncertainty in the pace of recovery in the Ontario economy."

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"Within the media segment, we do expect that digital revenue will benefit from the 2010 acquisitions of (websites) Travelalerts and Wagjag, as well as growth trends in many of the existing digital businesses."

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