Primedia

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Primedia answered a long-running question by last month looking into a potential sale of its largest title, the 2.5 million circulation Seventeen. This comes after selling in '02 Chicago Magazine, American Baby Group and Modern Bride. In other words, Primedia is now strictly an enthusiast-title company (and let the chatter about the fate of New York Magazine continue), albeit one with annual revenue of $1.7 billion. How clear this distinction makes the company's complex financial structure and overall mission remains an open question. Primedia's finances appear to have stabilized somewhat in '02, as it hit earnings targets once seen as wildly overoptimistic. Chairman-CEO Tom Rogers continues to point out that in an economic downturn, endemic advertising outperforms the market at large. The counter to that, though, is it won't benefit from a secular boom. Primedia's `02 ad pages fell 3.8%-though Publishers Information Bureau data don't track many of its enthusiast titles-slightly more than the industry average of 2.7%. Key areas of Primedia's portfolio, like its media-heavy business-to-business titles, remain severely stressed. Overall trends for Primedia are certainly better than they were last year at this time, though the company's slowness in achieving stated objectives, as typified by a very drawn-out process to sell $250 million in assets after its '01 pickup of Emap USA, remains a potential trouble spot. As does its debt level, which despite more aggressive paying-down was still $1.8 billion at yearend. As does its still-slumping stock price, which remains hard-pressed to crack $3 after peaking at more than $30 in March `00. (No word yet on a possible backlash against Primedia, owing to its ownership of Arabian Horse World-stay tuned.)

Rating: 1.5 stars

Best performer:

Automobile Magazine

ad pages

up 16.1% to 851.9

circulation

up 1.6% to 644,281

Worst performer:

Power & Motoryacht

ad pages

down 11.2% to 2,317.5

circulation

second-half 2002 statement yet to be filed

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