Highlights for the Period
Consolidated revenue for the period ending September 30, 2019 was $48.3 million, down $0.5 million or 0.9% from the same period in the prior year. Consolidated EBITDA was $2.1 million for the period, up $0.4 million or 23.3% from the same period in the prior year.
Including the Company’s share of joint ventures and associates, revenue was $58.7 million, down $3.2 million or 5.1% and EBITDA was $3.4 million, down $1.1 million or 24.3%. The decreases were partially the result of the sale of Fundata in April 2019.
Continued progress is being made evolving the business in key identified areas of focus within business information and digital media. ERIS, STP, REW, agricultural digital media, weather, agriculture and mining shows, mining intelligence, energy and community media digital all grew during the quarter.
Print advertising revenues overall continue to decline as expected; although softness in the agricultural market impacted the agricultural group’s print revenues more than expected (agricultural print revenue grew in 2018). The declines in print revenue are being largely offset by revenue growth in key data, analytics and intelligence products and digital media products consistent with the Company’s strategy. The overall revenue declines in print publications had an impact on EBITDA for the quarter.
It is not expected or required that the Company’s total consolidated revenue will grow in the near term as print revenues decline and the targeted growth areas of business scale. The Company’s strategy is to 1) grow the data, analytics and intelligence and digital media businesses and 2) leverage the brands, market reach, content, sales force and customer relationships of its print products in business information and community media to expedite the growth of the digital media products and events.
The data, analytics and intelligence and digital media businesses typically have higher margins and higher valuations once sufficient scale is achieved or sufficient growth opportunity is evident, which means future consolidated revenue levels can be lower while creating significantly greater shareholder value.
Approximately 70% of the Company’s Environmental and Property Information and Commodity Information revenue comes from digital and events (85% of this revenue comes from data, analytics and intelligence and digital business media and 15% from events).
The company continues to make significant operating investments in some of the key strategic initiatives within the business information operations and digital community media. These operating investments have had the impact of reducing short-term profitability, but are critical to the Company’s growth plan and are resulting in demonstrable value creation.
During the quarter, the Company completed a private placement of 15,384,615 common shares at a price of $0.65 per share for gross proceeds of $10.0 million. The net proceeds of the private placement were initially used to pay down debt, but are intended for investment purposes and general working capital needs. The private placement will allow the Company to pursue strategic investments as they arise to increase its scale, competitiveness and operating strength while maintaining lower debt levels.
During the quarter, the Company repaid the remaining $4.0 million of the unsecured loan to Madison. The unsecured loan was repaid and replaced with senior debt to reduce the overall cost of borrowing.
The Company continues to make progress in its key growth areas in business information and digital media, which are offsetting expected print revenue declines, as demonstrated by the overall revenue performance. As stated, ERIS, STP, REW, the agricultural group’s digital media, weather, agricultural and mining shows, mining intelligence and energy and community media digital all grew during the quarter.
24% of the Company’s consolidated consumer media revenue (community media and real estate) in British Columbia now comes from digital revenue. Revenue has also been positively impacted by the acquisition of Castanet. Continued investment in product development and softness in print advertising are still constraining EBITDA growth.
The Community Media Group’s digital revenue and profitability grew as well, as progress continues to be made in the growth of the community websites, digital marketing services and specialty products & services. The acquisition of Castanet, in the second quarter of 2019, has increased the Company’s digital presence in British Columbia.
The increase in EBITDA in the quarter was the result of the acquisition of Castanet, lease accounting changes and net operating performance. EBITDA was impacted by softness in print community media, agricultural advertising and increased operating investments made in some of the key strategic initiatives, including the REW real estate portal, agriculture show expansion, new weather and agricultural markets subscription-based products, mining data and intelligence information products and new digital community media products.
These investments are being made to take advantage of opportunities that exist in the Company’s markets that require timely action to be taken. The growth in revenues being achieved in these operations, and the demand for the Company’s products this reflects, underscores the fact that the investments are working and value is being created.
Efforts are being made to improve profitability going forward through the acceleration of revenue growth from the investments being made in growth areas, timing of additional investments in relation to incremental revenue being generated, and a variety of cost reduction and rationalization initiatives being pursued primarily in the newspaper operations.
Given the uncertain North American and global economic conditions that exist and the stage of transformation some of the Company’s businesses are in, the Company will operate cautiously, but believes continued investment is necessary for long-term value creation. Cost efficiency opportunities continue to be pursued where possible to help manage profitability while investment is being made.
Management will focus on making progress in its growth areas, improving profitability, looking for new investment opportunity and reducing debt further in order to maintain financial flexibility and be in a strong position to exploit opportunities should they arise.