Jessica Goodfellow
Oct 14, 2020

SPH records first-ever annual loss: US$62 million

Media revenue fell 23% in the full year as advertisers reduced spend due to Covid-19.

SPH records first-ever annual loss: US$62 million

Covid-19 significantly weighed down Singapore Press Holdings' performance in 2020, pushing the media organisation to report its first-ever net loss, of S$83.7 million (US$61.6 million) for the year ended 31 August.

This is a marked reversal of the S$213.2 million (US$156.9 million) in net profit the group recorded in 2019.

The publisher of The Straits Times newspaper and other publications said Covid-19 "severely disrupted" all of its business segments. 

SPH CEO Ng Yat Chung noted that the group's media business was "badly affected by the collapse in advertising". 

Total operating revenue declined by 9.8% in the year to S$865.7 million on the back of a 31.4% drop in media advertisement revenue. Media revenue fell 22.8% to S$445.1 million, which the company said was largely due to newspaper print advertisement revenue which declined 32.9% or S$99.1 million.

Chung added that a 9.4% growth in circulation numbers, driven by a 52.5% growth in digital circulation, was a "bright spot" in the otherwise rather bleak results. 

"We are intensifying our digitalisation efforts to transform the news content business in response to evolving demands from our audience," Chung said. "We will continue to take a prudent and disciplined approach to liquidity and capital management to weather the Covid-19 crisis with all our stakeholders."

Despite the impact of Covid-19 on its property portfolio and advertising revenue, the media organisation remains operationally profitable. Operating profit was S$110.2 million in the full year, representing a 41% year-on-year drop.

It took a significant hit from non-cash fair value losses of S$232 million on the investment properties including retail and purpose-built student accommodation assets.

Staff headcount fell from 4,085 in the previous year to 3,808 as of August 31, representing a 6.8% reduction. In August, it cut 140 roles in its media group division as part of an ongoing streamlining operation to address the impact of Covid-19 on its advertising revenue. As a result of restructures, staff costs decreased by 1.5% to S$328.4 million in the year, due to the lower headcount and reduced bonuses, the company said.

A total of S$68.5 million in government grants, including $28.1 million of wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Schemes, helped to "partially cushion the impact of Covid-19", the company said.

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