Analyst: Digital fees not enough to help NY Times

NEW YORK (AP) ? The New York Times’ digital paywall is unlikely to collect enough revenue to offset a long-running decline in the newspaper’s print advertising, according to an analysis sent to investors Wednesday.

Citigroup analyst Leo Kulp downgraded his rating on the stock of The New York Times Co. from “Buy” to “Neutral.”

A Times Co. spokesman declined to comment.

Kulp’s downgrade came less than a week after the Times Co.’s stock rose 9 percent after a third-quarter earnings report that didn’t turn out as bad as investors had feared.

Times Co. disclosed in that report that The New York Times ended September with about 324,000 digital subscribers. The total was interpreted as a positive sign for the newspaper’s requirement, imposed in March, that readers pay for unlimited access to it through the website or on digital devices. .

Kulp said the print advertising slump that began more than five years ago will eclipse any gains from the digital fees.

Another wave of digital subscribers is expected to ante up when a free promotion sponsored by Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln brand expires at the end of the year. About 100,000 people are getting unlimited access through the Lincoln deal.

If a substantial number of those readers pay for digital subscriptions, Kulp estimates the total fees will increase the Times Co.’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization ? a measure known as EBITDA ? by $70 million to $75 million annually. Kulp thinks further print advertising declines could cost the Times Co. about $80 million in annual EBITDA.

The company’s shares gained 14 cents, or nearly 2 percent, to close Wednesday at $7.33. The stock is down by about 25 percent so far this year.

Kulp thinks the Times Co. shares could hit $8 within the next year.