Peter Kafka

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CBS: Things Are Bad, But We Can Pay Our Bills; Dividend Slashed

moonvesCBS had a lousy fourth quarter, but that’s not news. Wall Street expected it, and Les Moonves and company met revenue expectations while beating earnings.

The real news is that the company is trying to resolve a looming debt problem by slashing its dividend. CBS’s quarterly payout to investors is dropping from 27 cents to 5 cents.

What CBS didn’t announce–the now de rigueur massive write-down that so many of its big media peers have rolled out this quarter. Then again, CBS (CBS) took a $14 billion hit in the previous quarter, so that may have been sufficient.

Moonves on the dividend cut and his company’s debt issue: “By taking this step now, we will further strengthen our financial flexibility to meet our debt obligations even in difficult credit markets, and still provide our shareholders with an attractive dividend.”

Sumner Redstone’s “it’s got to get better” quote: “We are clearly in the midst of one of the most difficult financial environments in history, with very little visibility on how long these economic conditions will continue or if there is worse to come. But one thing that is clear to me is that Leslie and his team are managing our businesses superbly with an eye toward future growth. CBS’s strength as a content provider will continue to position it for success.”

The breakdown:

CBS recorded revenues of $3.53 billion, just below Wall Street’s $3.56 billion consensus. Earnings from continuing operations were 20 cents a share, but strip out impairment charges and CBS would have notched earnings of 34 cents per share. That’s well above the consensus of 26 cents. [Apologies for flubbing this the first time out.]

TV: Revenue down eight percent, Operating income (before depreciation, etc) down 35 percent

Radio: Revenue down 18 percent, OI down 53 percent

Billboards: Revenue down 15 percent, OI down 51 percent

Publishing: Revenue up one percent! But OI down four percent

Quincy Smith’s Interactive group posted a revenue increase of 218 percent, but that doesn’t mean much given that CBS didn’t own CNET a year ago. If you include CNET’s results from last year, revenue increased one percent–not bad, compared to its peers.

If you’d said a year ago that a Web ad business posting a one percent increase is a good thing, you’d have been laughed off the Internet. But here we are. For the record, the unit recorded operating income of $51.7 million on revenue of $186.3 million.

Are you one of the CNET or CBS Interactive employees who got laid off last fall? Your collective sacking cost your former employer $2.6 million in restructuring charges.

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