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Straits Times publisher continues to shed reliance on media business

Singapore Press Holdings sees property segment earn nearly half of quarterly pretax profit

  © AP

SINGAPORE -- Singapore Press Holdings, publisher of the Straits Times, saw 49% of its pretax profit generated from real estate operations in the latest quarter, as its core newspaper business continues to struggle amid the worldwide disruption in the media industry.

The dominant newspaper publisher of the city-state reported on Friday that just 33% of its pretax profit, or $26 million Singapore dollars ($20 million), came from the media business in the fiscal first quarter through November, down from 49% in the year-ago period.

The revenue contribution from the media segment also shank to 67% in the latest quarter from 73% a year ago. Both advertising and circulation revenue slumped on the year.

Overall, revenue for the September-November quarter fell 7% year-on-year to S$258 million, while net profit climbed 32% to S$60 million, driven by strong non-media operations as well as gains from the disposal of investments.

Shrinking dependence on its media business has been a continuing trend for Singapore Press. For the fiscal year ended in August, the segment's contribution to pretax profit was 36%. The proportion has steadily fallen, totaling 61% in fiscal 2015 and 52% in fiscal 2016.

In an effort to address the decline in newspaper readership in the digital age, Singapore Press announced last October that it would eliminate 230 jobs company-wide, with 200 of the cuts in the editorial department, representing 15% of the newsroom staff. The restructuring continued in November, as the company merged three Chinese-language media teams.

The top earner for the latest quarter was the real estate segment, which earned S$39 million, or 49% of pretax profit. The company owns three retail malls in Singapore -- including Paragon, the high-end mall in the heart of shopping belt Orchard Road -- as well as a condominium development.

Growth also came from its new nursing home business. Anticipating higher demand for long-term care as Singapore society ages, the company last year acquired nursing home operator Orange Valley Healthcare. For the latest quarter, revenue from the "others" segment, which includes the nursing home operations, jumped 48% on the year. The unit generated pretax profit of S$3 million, pivoting from a S$1 million loss a year earlier.

The company said it plans to "roll out new products to deal with the disruption in the core media business, and continue to pursue other growth opportunities to diversify revenue streams."

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