Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Reuters Results: Half Empty or Half Full?

The announcement from Reuters of its latest earnings strikes a positive note with positive net sales every month of 1H05 and in 2Q05 its first quarter of positive underlying recurring revenue growth since 2001. Then again, you could take the Wall Street Journal's spin on the numbers and point that net profit fell 56 percent in 1H05 compared to the same period last year. The Reuters announcement is thick with strategies for the future, including focusing on more specific opportunities such as algorthmic trading support and content for markets such as India and China. Even with these, though, the forecast is for low-single-digit revenue growth for some time to come. To help compensate for this Reuters plans to return to shareholders USD 1 billion from its sale of Instinet shares. In other words, the Fast Forward program has indeed managed to make its core operations cost-effective, but they remain tethered to financial investment markets that are hardly budging while competitors remain strong and profitable.

The promised investments in news and data are positive movements towards both their core markets and support of the broader Reuters brand in media channels, but these are incremental initiatives, not all-new revenue streams. Tom Glocer has brought Reuters through some challenging times, but the challenge now is to allocate enough investment into new markets that can leverage their core capabilities more profitably. Without this diversity, it will be hard to make the best use of shareholders' funds that can find more reasonable rates of return from other content ventures. There's cash to keep shareholders happy in the meantime via the Instinet sale, but that's not going to keep the wolves away forever. Hopefully Reuters can spin the glass as being half full long enough to come up with some more profitable lines of business. Short of that, in a year's or less it may be time to pour the remainders into a bigger glass.
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