Lee Enterprises executives gave an upbeat assessment Wednesday about the company's financial performance, noting growth in digital revenues, industry-exceeding operating margins and aggressive repayment of debt.
Davenport-based Lee, the parent company of the Quad-City Times, held its annual meeting, where shareholders approved new terms for some of its directors, as well as a handful of other proposals in a session lasting about 20 minutes.
"We are confident that we have the right strategies and tactics in place to provide a bright future for Lee and for its shareholders," Mary Junck, the company's executive chairman, told a group that included shareholders and company employees.
Company officials said there's a sharp focus on locally controllable revenue, where Kevin Mowbray, Lee's president and chief executive officer, said there is the most upside.
In addition, there was optimism about subscription revenue. The company also said that digital revenue is on a strong trajectory, and that it now accounts for 24 percent of advertising revenue.
"We’re very focused in accelerating digital revenues. We’ve made significant investments in new digital products; added more digital elite experts; and have become more sophisticated in growing digital audience," Mowbray said.
Lee reported earlier this month that total operating revenue fell in the first quarter of 2017. But Junck said the company believes its growth initiatives "will improve revenue performance in the remainder of 2017, and in fact we're currently seeing an uptick in the revenue trend."
Lee executives also emphasized they continue to devote "substantially all" of the company's available cash to debt reduction. As of December, the principal amount of debt stood at $599 million, down from $704 million the previous December. The company said repayment of debt has resulted in $8.7 million in reduced interest payments over the past 12 months.
Lee owns 46 daily newspapers and has a joint interest in two others, along with digital products and nearly 300 specialty publications in 21 states.