Rural Press AGM

Rural Press Limited will hold its annual general meeting this morning at North Richmond on Sydney’s north western outskirts.

The company will declare final dividends of 20 cents per ordinary share (118,747,877) and 22 cents per preferred share (79,681,433), and fill two directors’ positions.

Non-executive directors, Timothy Vincent Fairfax AM and Peter Andrew Roach, will retire by rotation, but are eligible and will offer themselves for re-election.

Today’s AGM – the 94th for Rural Press, is set down for 10.30am at the company’s registered office at 159 Bells Line of Road, North Richmond.

Timothy Fairfax, 58, has been a Board member since 1998 and is a Director of Marinya Media Pty Limited, which is a controlling shareholder of Rural Press. He is the brother of Rural Press Chairman, John B Fairfax.

Peter Roach has been a Board member since 2001 and is also a Director of Marinya Media.

If either is re-elected, they will continue as a Director for a further three years, after which they will again be subject to retirement by rotation under the company’s constitution.

In the lead up to today’s AGM, Rural Press was predicting further growth in 2004-’05, after a record net profit after tax and outside equity interests of $87.1 million, an increase of 27.3% over the previous year.

Revenue increased by 9.8% to $515 million, indicating some recovery in many regional markets. While the good result was driven by the company’s core Australian publishing and printing activities, which made $ 468.3 million, Rural Press also has radio interests which contributed $7.7 million gross revenue to the bottom line, up from last year’s $6.2m.

John B Fairfax says the company expects further growth this financial year: “The company’s strategies and medium term objectives are predicated on further growth which, at this stage, appears achievable.

“Despite the lingering effects of the drought, particularly in parts of the eastern interior, reasonable rainfalls at critical times were sufficient to generate a lift in the Australian agricultural sector and enable our Australian agricultural publications to stage a market recovery over the previous year.

“The adoption of new international accounting standards will have some impact on the 2004-‘05 results including the way the company reports on assets.

“The full impact of these adjustments on the consolidated statement of financial position has not yet been determined, however this change is not anticipated to have a significant effect on either cash flows or the company’s dividend policy.”

The latest notes to the Rural Press annual reports reveal Managing Director, Brian McCarthy, was paid almost $830 000 last financial year in salary and performance bonuses. John B Fairfax received more than $131 000.

Earlier this year, Rural Press declared it was on the acquisition trail and McCarthy declared the company had become a major player in the media landscape and wanted to expand.

He told an American Chamber of Commerce briefing in Sydney that the media group has a market capitalisation of $1.6 billion: “We would be interested in any big media play that is available to us, so long as it is on the right basis.”

At the time, McCarthy said Rural Press was interested in adding scale to its own broadcasting portfolio: “Acquiring new assets is now a core competency of the group which would, in the absence of changes to cross media ownership laws, consider a major publishing acquisition such as part of its long term strategy.

“In the sector today, there are certainly metropolitan publishers. There are also some substantial regional publishers as well.”

While Rural Press has radio stations in south east Queensland and South Australia, it owns more than 200 newspapers in Australia, New Zealand and the US, plus 17 printing sites around Australia.

Asked if Rural Press had an eye on Austar or West Australian Newspapers, McCarthy said the group was interested in all big media players. He would not comment on whether the organisation was in merger discussions or the subject of takeover talks.

“Let’s just say that from time to time, there’s a lot of discussions gone on,” adding the company would look at any proposal in the interest of shareholders. Rural Press is 54% owned by Marinya Media, which would have to approve any expansion.

McCarthy was confident about the immediate future, saying that 10 weeks into the financial year, the group was trading ahead of both target and last year.

“We achieved our 2004 result, based on advertising volume growth, as distinct from rate rise growth, and … with volume growth comes pagination growth – therefore expense – so, if the (advertising) cycle was to soften to some degree, clearly we’re in a position where our costs can be moderated to protect us.”