Sinclair’s 4Q Forecast Beats Street

(Feb. 11)HUNT VALLEY, MD.: Sinclair Broadcast Group today issued preliminary financial results for the fourth quarter, ending Dec. 31. The multiple TV station concern expects to post total revenues of $196 million, versus $198 million for the same period a year earlier. Net income is projected at $20.3 million versus nearly $13 million the year before.

Wall Street pegged Sinclair’s (NASDAQ: SBGI) 4Q revenue at around $192 million. The company also expects to post a per-share dividend of around 20 cents for the quarter, compared to the Street’s projection of 18 cents.

However, SBGI’s preliminary results don’t factor in an expected write-down of nearly $460 million. The final results will be included in the company’s annual report.

In light of the anticipated effect of the write-down and the bleak financial outlook for the rest of 2009, SBGI chief David Smith said TV station salaries have been frozen, capital expenditures “cut drastically,” and further outside investments limited.

“While the savings from our cost control initiatives are meaningful, we do not expect them to offset the expected declines in advertising revenues in 2009,” he said.

Smith said SBGI expected to be able to make loan payments and pay quarterly dividends, but that the board decided ownership should forego its dividends if staff salaries were frozen.

SBGI total preliminary revenues include nearly $32 million from barter deals and operations not related to broadcasting. The company’s 58 TV stations generated $164.4 million in 4Q revenues, compared to $165.7 million the year previous.

For the full year of 2008, SBGI expects to post $754 million in total revenues, versus $718 million for 2007. TV station revenues are projected to come in at $639 million versus $623 million in ’07.

Political ads contributed $25.6 million in 4Q and $41.1 million for the full year, up from $2.2 million and $5 million in the corresponding ’07 periods.

Retrans revenues were $17.7 million in 4Q08 compared to $15.9 million in 4Q07. Full-year retrans is projected at $73.9 million for 2008 versus $58.9 million in 2007, a 26 percent increase.

Local advertising, which comprised nearly 70 percent of SBGI’s ad revenue in 4Q, was off 7.6 percent , while national was up by nearly 10 percent thanks to the election. Sans political, local was down 14 percent and national was down nearly 25 percent. Revenue from the automotive sector, representing 15 percent of SBGI’s time sales, was down nearly 32 percent.

For 2009, SBGI expects Q1 broadcast revenues to be down by a low- to mid-20 percentage compared to the $160.9 million posted in 1Q08, when many of SBGI’s stations carried the Super Bowl.