Yesterday, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”7ac08d444f37191c8a97699e6530751c” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] (YPG), Canada’s largest directory publisher, presented their Q4 2008 and 2008 yearly results. I think they surprised the market with better-than-expected financial results, especially in their directory operations. Total revenues for the whole company for the whole year were $1,696,713,000 million. Christian Paupe, YPG’s CFO, had three key messages:
1) Strong growth in the Directories category. “We continue to lead the industry both operationally and financially” said Marc Tellier, YPG’s CEO and President. Combined print and online revenues were up 3.5% for the year. For the full year, revenues in Directories reached $1,377 million and EBITDA was $822.8 million. EBITDA margins were 60.1% compared to 59.2% in 2007. An important indicator is print revenue growth/decrease. In Q4, print revenues were down 0.7% (Q3 was also down 0.5%) which gives them flat print revenue growth for the year.
2) Trader, their Vertical Media business (i.e. classifieds), is definitely challenged by economic environment. Combined print and online revenues were down -1.8% for the year at $320.7 million. 2008 EBITDA was better with $108.2 million (an increase of 6.1%) due to “cost containment efforts”. Trader’s EBITDA margin in 2008 was 33.7% compared to 30.8% in 2007.
3) Their online organic revenue growth was very strong in 2008. Online revenues for Directories and Vertical Media combined increased to $246.8 million in 2008. This represents organic growth of 43.5%. Q4 online revenues in Vertical Media were up +60%.
YPG introduced two new noteworthy online products in 2008. The first is an improved version of their blockbuster Directory Plus product called Enhanced Directory Plus. It now includes Google Adwords. The second one, the Showcase Bundle, is a complete multimedia solution including a quarter column print ad, a bold alpha directory listing, our online video product Profile Plus and all the components of Enhanced Directory Plus. The Profile Plus product allows them to collect key local content like brands offered and hours of operations.
A couple of slightly negative news:
- Customer count was down to 405,000 (couldn’t find last year’s numbers). Christian Paupe explained that they had tightened credit checks and taken a firmer stand on denied advertising (40% higher in this environment).
- Online traffic measured in unique visitors was down in Q4 ’08 vs. Q4 ’07. Online reach was down from 42% in Q4 ’07 to 38% in Q4 ’08. This was caused by a change in technology platform powering Canada411.ca and by lower traffic on AutoTrader.ca (less people shopping for cars in the current economic climate). Tellier did say YellowPages.ca, their core site, was up 15% for the year though, due to organic traffic growth.
- Tellier reports that current sales (January 2009) are in-line with their expectations. As expected, large urban markets are more challenging but they’re seeing more online growth there. He mentioned that they didn’t see any change in their very-high customer retention rate (above 90%)
- There was some discussions around the re-scoping of the Toronto books (going from two to four books)
- From a regional perspective, BC and Alberta are suffering while Quebec, Manitoba, and the Atlantic provinces are doing well
- Anecdotally, Tellier said “competitive intensity is down” in all markets.
- Tellier also disclosed that substitution from print and online was occuring at Trader but not in their Directories operations
- Their Management’s Discussion and Analysis document states that ” During the last six months, we have observed a more cautious behaviour from advertisers due to the adverse economic conditions they are experiencing. We have in the past demonstrated our ability to sustain stable and consistent growth during economic downturns and as a result, our revenues continue to grow despite the protracted economic and market environment highlighting the resilient nature of our national directory platform.”