By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
More or less
First comes the disclaimer: Buzz is not exactly a business whiz. Our long-term financial strategy is this: Earn money. Spend it. Borrow more money. Spend it too. Die young.
So we're probably not the best source to glean useful information from the 1998 annual report of A.H. Belo Corp. mailed to us this week. But that's never stopped us before.
Here's one solid fact Buzz was able to grasp after reading the report, talking with people who know something about business, and consulting Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms: The company's name is now just Belo. Like Roseanne. As in "lookout Belo," possibly a reference to the company's stock prices, which tumbled last year. The return on Belo stock was 32 percent lower than the average of stocks for similar communications companies.
OK, besides a bad pun, here are some other highlights from the report for those of you who have money and stocks and care about finance. (Why are you reading Buzz? Get back to work.) Belo's revenues in 1998 were $1.4 billion, up from $1.25 billion in 1997. Net earnings were $65 million in 1998, compared with $83 million in 1997--down in part because of early-retirement incentives for employees and a write-off for a printing press at The Dallas Morning News.
Four of Belo's highest-paid executives did not receive bonuses in 1998--bonuses for all Morning News employees were canceled this year. (The bosses feel your pain, workers. Last year, bonuses for executives ranged from $194,620 to $731,250.) Belo Chairman Robert Decherd's salary was $696,000 in 1998. News Publisher Burl Osborne received $538,000.
The News had a less-than-stellar year. Average circulation was 515,181 daily and 780,084 on Sundays, down from 517,215 and 789,004 in 1997. Revenue increased slightly, despite a 5.1 percent drop in advertising column inches, thanks to rate increases of between 5 percent and 12.75 percent. In other words: Ad sales are down. Fewer people see the ads. What do we do? Raise prices. Someone at Belo must have slept through the same business classes Buzz slept through.
"I feel violated," District 2 city council candidate Pete Vaca told us after reading in last week's Buzz that political operative Joe May had faxed us a copy of Vaca's and his wife's applications for mail-in absentee ballots. May had organized a "voter education" drive that was signing people up for absentee ballots on behalf of District 2 incumbent John Loza.
Vaca says the volunteer who collected the couple's applications never mentioned Loza or the fact that May would have access to the forms. Vaca certainly didn't expect Buzz to get them, though he's grateful we did, since he smells a violation of the law--somewhere.
Well, maybe not. County elections administrator Bruce Sherbet says state law is vague when it comes to regulating who passes out the ballot applications and what they do with them.
We're sorry we made you feel violated, Pete, but get used to it. If you get elected, we'll probably be violating you regularly.
--Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams