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Clear Channel posts $4.7 billion loss

Clear Channel Communications Inc. on Friday reported a loss of $4.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2004, all of it due to an accounting change to comply with federal regulations.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Clear Channel Communications Inc. on Friday reported a loss of $4.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2004, all of it due to an accounting change to comply with federal regulations.

Excluding the charge, Clear Channel's earnings were $214.3 million, or 37 cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2004, up 14.5 percent from the $187.2 million, or 30 cents per share, earned in the same quarter in 2003.

The per-share earnings matched the consensus of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

The San Antonio-based radio and advertising giant reported fourth-quarter revenue of $2.31 billion, up 1 percent from $2.29 billion a year earlier.

Radio revenue was $965 million in the quarter, essentially the same as the fourth quarter of 2003, and its live entertainment division dropped 12 percent to $525 million. Billboards and other outdoor advertising rose 12 percent in the quarter to $686 million.

Clear Channel management also said Friday that it was pleased with early results of its so-called "Less is More" strategy, in which the company is emphasizing shorter radio ads and shorter commercial breaks as a benefit both to advertisers and listeners.

Demand and price of 15-second and 30-second ads were both up in the first two months of 2005 compared to a year earlier, it said.

"We know that shorter-length commercials work," John Hogan, chief executive of Clear Channel Radio, said during a conference call with analysts. "We are giving advertisers an opportunity to deliver their message in a less cluttered environment."

The new strategy comes as traditional radio continues to lose audience share to satellite radio, which doesn't interrupt programming with commercials.

A recently released survey by J.P. Morgan found that the absence of commercials is the single biggest factor in why many listeners are switching to subscription services like XM Satellite Radio and Sirius.

Randall Mays, chief financial officer, said Clear Channel will continue its focus on using free cash flow to buy back its stock. The company announced earlier this month that it plans to spend $1 billion for stock buyback over the next year, which it said would bring to $3.1 billion the amount spent on buybacks since early 2004.

For the full year, Clear Channel had a loss of $4 billion on sales of $9.4 billion, with the loss coming from the accounting change to satisfy a Securities and Exchange Commission rules interpretation in September on how intangible assets are reported.

Without special items, the company had a full-year profit of $845.8 million, or $1.41 per share, up from the $726 million, or $1.17 per share, earned in 2003.

Radio was up 2 percent to $2.16 billion for the year, the company said, led by growth in small and midsize markets that are more reliant on local advertising. In larger markets, it said it was hurt by lower ad spending by retailers, car dealers and telecom companies.

Revenue from concerts and other live events rose 4 percent for the year to $2.75 billion, and outdoor advertising grew 13 percent to $2.45 billion.

Clear Channel operates about 1,200 radio stations and 41 television stations in the United States. The company is also the world's largest producer of concerts and other live-entertainment events, and has significant interests in billboards domestically and overseas.

Its shares were down 91 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $33 in early trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. The 52-week trading range for Clear Channel is $29.96 to $45.22.