Gannett shares rise on $1.3B capital return plan

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gannett's stock rose more than 4 percent Wednesday, after the company outlined a plan to return $1.3 billion to shareholders by 2015.

Gannett Co., Inc., the diversified media company and publisher of newspapers, including USA Today, said Wednesday at a meeting with investors and analysts that it plans to more than double its annual dividend to 80 cents per share. The first quarterly dividend of 20 cents will be paid in April. It will also buy back $300 million worth of shares in the next two years.

The company's stock rose 63 cents, or 4.2 percent, to close at $15.61 on Wednesday. That is close to the stock's 52-week high of $16.75 set last March.

The company's annual dividend is still half the $1.60 per share it paid out in 2008. Still, the increase is more than analysts were expecting. Citi analyst Leo Kulp expected a doubling of the annual dividend to 64 cents per share and a share buyback authorization of $200 million.

Gannett said it expects annual revenue growth between 2 percent and 4 percent by 2015. While analyst estimates compiled by FactSet do not extend that far, it would be a marked improvement from the flat revenue analysts expect for fiscal 2014.

Gannett's quarterly revenue has declined, on a year-over-year basis, for the last 20 quarters. The company's last quarterly growth came in the three-month period that ended December 2006.

Gannett said it would achieve its growth target by creating a new subscription model for its U.S. community publishing division; re-launching its online, mobile and tablet products over the next two years; developing a new digital marketing service targeted at small- and medium-sized businesses; expanding its USA Today sports media group; and garnering new fees from cable and satellite TV distributors that carry its TV stations.

The company also said it expects adjusted earnings for fiscal 2012 of $2.18 per share. Analysts polled by FactSet were looking for $2.22 per share.

Gannett also expects adjusted earnings per share for the January-through-March quarter of 28 cents to 32 cents. That's below the 40 cents per share expected by analysts polled by FactSet, but the company said analysts' estimates did not include about 9 cents per share of investments in strategic growth initiatives and higher pension expenses in the quarter.

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