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Feb. 4, 2021, 12:40 p.m. EST

New York Times CEO says there is still ‘plenty going on’ without Trump

Tomi Kilgore

New York Times Co. Chief Executive Meredith Levien on Thursday addressed the elephant in the room, by telling analysts there was still a lot going on in the world to keep subscribers engaged, even without Trump.

There’s no denying the media company got a huge bump from Donald Trump’s presidency, despite Trump’s repeated claims that the New York Times was “failing.” The stock (NYS:NYT) nearly quadrupled the past four years, skyrocketing 289% from year-end 2016 through 2020, while the S&P 500 index (S&P:SPX) rose 68% and the shares of USA Today parent Gannett Co. Inc. (NYS:GCI) dropped 79% over the same time.

When asked by J.P. Morgan analyst Alexia Quadrani for some guidance on subscribers going forward in a post-Trump world, Levien said, according to a FactSet transcript:

“I’d say broadly its still pretty high. There’s still plenty going on.”

While some variability can be expected from month to month and quarter to quarter, she believed there was still a “very strong news cycle with multiple interrelated stories that are still playing out.”

The stock rose 2.4% in midday trading. It has gained 1.2% year to date, while the S&P 500 has tacked on 2.7%.

Craig Huber of Huber Research Partners also asked Levien to elaborate on her views of engagement in the aftermath of the presidential inauguration, given that many investors seem to believe the Times got a “huge Trump bump” during the last four years. Levien answered:

“I think the Times, as long as it’s been around, has always been bigger than any one story.”

She said a look “under the hood” on what drives people to become and remain subscribers indicates “it’s the experience of the breadth of our journalism.”

Levien’s comments came after the Times reported fourth-quarter profit and revenue that beat expectations , as subscription revenue remained strong despite some assumptions of a drop off after the presidential election.

Net income fell to $10.0 million, or 6 cents a share, from $68.2 million, or 41 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Excluding nonrecurring items, such as a pension settlement charge, adjusted earnings per share slipped to 40 cents from 43 cents, but beat the FactSet consensus of 35 cents.

Total revenue rose 0.2% to $509.4 million, above the FactSet consensus of $499.8 million, as subscription revenue rose 14.7% to $315.8 million and advertising revenue dropped 18.7% to $139.3 million.

Revenue from digital-only products jumped 36.8% to $167 million, while print subscription revenue fell 2.9% to $148.8 million.

The company ended the quarter with about 7.5 million subscriptions across its print and products. That compares with 2.9 million paid subscriptions as of Dec. 25, 2016.

For the first quarter, the company expects subscription revenue to rise 15% and digital-only subscription revenue to grow 35% to 40%, while advertising revenue is expected to decline in the “high-teens” percentage range.

Link to MarketWatch's Slice.