Significant Developments in Q1 2020 and Outlook
Outlook and Impact of Coronavirus
The Company’s businesses began to feel the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the latter half of March. The operating and financial impact of the pandemic and the economic consequences accelerated rapidly post Q1.
The Company operates a broad portfolio of businesses in terms of geography, industries served and business models. Print community media, residential and commercial real estate, energy and mining and most of the Company’s other businesses are being adversely impacted to a significant degree by the COVID pandemic, by advertising shortfalls and other factors affecting revenue.
Some operations are being impacted less by the crisis. For example, the Canadian agricultural industry is benefiting from the situation given that food is an essential product and a weaker Canadian dollar has helped with producer revenues. Glacier FarmMedia has held up well as a result. Digital media traffic has increased significantly, with digital revenues holding up relatively well.
Given the impact of COVID-19 and the high degree of uncertainty, management has taken a number of steps to address the COVID-19 effects and the economic fallout, including:
- The Company’s foremost focus has been on keeping its employees safe while continuing to maintain its community and customer connections. As a result, the Company has undertaken a wide variety of measures to protect the health of its staff and help reduce the spread of the virus. These measures include working from home, practicing self-distancing, creating a safe environment for those who must go into the office, staggering in-office work days and rigorous cleaning.
- Implementing significant company-wide cost reduction measures. Measures were tailored to each market and the operating situation of each business and included a senior management and staff wage roll-back, permanent and temporary lay-offs, reduced hours and workshare programs and other non-labour related cost containment.
- Applying for government assistance programs where the Company is eligible, including wage subsidies and working capital loans.
- Ensuring the Company has sufficient access to capital to weather the economic effects of the pandemic and weaker market conditions.
Management is monitoring operating performance and cash flow on a weekly basis and will take additional actions as necessary.
The current circumstances are dynamic and the impacts of COVID-19 on the Company’s business operations are expected to be pronounced for a lengthy period of time. The duration and impact on overall customer demand cannot be reasonably estimated at this time, but it is anticipated this may have a further adverse impact on the Company’s business, results of operations, financial position and cash flows during the remainder of 2020.
Due to the uncertainty surrounding the magnitude, duration and potential outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Company is unable at this time to predict the total impact on its operations. However, the Company is taking significant cost containment actions as indicated and is evaluating its alternatives, including working with its lenders and with strategic partners to identify initiatives, including financings and transactions, in order to enhance the Company’s liquidity and financial condition.
During the first quarter of 2020, the Company’s performance was such that the growth areas increasingly offset declines in the mature businesses. Overall, performance in the quarter was much improved as compared to 2019 until the pandemic impacted revenues and profit in the latter half of March.
Significant developments during Q1 2020 included:
- Each business within the Environmental and Property Information segment (ERIS, STP and REW) experienced strong revenue and EBITDA growth.
- Glacier FarmMedia and the Resource Innovation Group were each impacted by poor conditions in the underlying agricultural and mining & energy markets. As a result, both businesses enacted cost reduction measures in the quarter, especially in more mature areas of their operations. In parallel, GFM continued to invest in growth areas and experienced strong revenue growth in digital media, digital listings and market and weather subscriptions.
- Community media digital continued the ongoing trend of strong development:
- Digital audience growth was strong in the quarter as the Local News Network’s March page views grew by 23% and unique visitors by 38% as compared to levels in Q4 2019. This growth continued a consistent trend and was accelerated in the month by the focus on local news due to the outbreak of COVID;
- Digital revenues were growing well during the first two months of the quarter then flattened during the latter part of March as the pandemic took effect.
- Print newspaper advertising revenues continued to decline as expected.
Operating Progress. Continued progress was made during the quarter in expanding and enhancing the key focus areas of the business within business information and community media digital. Community media digital, ERIS, STP, REW, agricultural digital media and listings, weather information, mining cost information and eLearning all continued their growth trend until the impact of the pandemic.
Print advertising revenues overall continue to decline. The declines in print revenue were partially offset by revenue growth in the key data, analytics and intelligence products and digital media products consistent with the Company’s strategy. During the quarter significant cost reduction and rationalization projects were also undertaken to help manage the print decline.
The Company expects its total revenue will continue to decline in the near term until it reaches the inflection point where the revenue from its data, analytics and intelligence products and digital media products exceeds the decline of its print. For the first two months of the quarter, the Company made good progress in this regard. March was on track to be another strong revenue month until the COVID pandemic started to impact the Company’s businesses.
Q1 2020 Operational Performance
Consolidated revenue for the period ending March 31, 2020 was $43.3 million, down $1.0 million or 2.2% from the same period in the prior year. Consolidated EBITDA was $1.9 million for the period, down less than $0.1 million or 1.4% from the same period in the prior year.
Including the Company’s share of joint ventures and associates, revenue was $52.4 million, down $5.1 million or 8.9% and EBITDA was $3.2 million, down $1.7 million or 34.9%. $0.8 million of the decline was the net result of the sale of Fundata and the acquisition of Castanet in April 2019.
The Company continued to make progress in its key growth areas in business information and digital media, which partially offset expected print revenue declines, as demonstrated by the overall revenue performance. Even with the negative impact of COVID-19 starting in the quarter the Company experienced lower consolidated revenue and EBITDA declines than in recent periods. This was largely due to the fact that revenue growth in the key growth businesses largely offset anticipated print declines where cost management initiatives continue to be implemented.
EBITDA was also reduced by the operating expense investments made in some of the key strategic development initiatives, including the REW digital real estate marketplace, new weather and agricultural markets subscription-based products, mining data and intelligence information products and new digital community media products.
These investments have been made to take advantage of opportunities that exist in the Company’s markets and require timely action to be taken. The growth in revenues achieved in these operations, and the demand for the Company’s products this reflects, underscores the fact that the investments have been working and value is being created.
Financial Position. As at March 31, 2020, senior debt was $20.5 million. The Company’s consolidated non-recourse, non-mortgage debt is in a nil position net of cash on hand as a result of significant debt repayment.
The Company also has $3.4 million of deferred purchase price obligations owing over the next two years and $10.0 million of a vendor-take back receivable from Fundata over the next four years
Annual General Meeting. Due to the impact and timing of COVID, the Company has made the decision to delay its Annual General Meeting until later in the year. The Information Circular, including executive compensation disclosure, will be mailed to shareholders of record before the meeting.