The company that owns the Winnipeg Free Press is investing more than $4 million in equipment upgrades for the newspaper's Mountain Avenue production plant to improve efficiencies and reduce operating costs.
Publisher Bob Cox said Tuesday the largest expenditure -- $2.7 million -- will be on a new high-capacity flyer-inserting line for the plant's packaging and distribution department, known as the mailroom.
He said the equipment will reduce operating costs because it will enable the newspaper to consolidate flyer-inserting functions previously performed by an independent contractor.
FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership (FPLP), which also owns the Brandon Sun and eight community newspapers in Manitoba, is also spending $1.5 million on a refurbished conveyer system to carry printed papers from the pressroom to the mailroom.
Cox said both projects are underway and should be completed this fall.
Some of the cost-cutting measures FPLP undertook last year, including the elimination of 30 jobs at the Free Press, are paying dividends this year.
Cox told shareholders attending the annual meeting for FP Newspapers Inc., the publicly traded entity that receives 49 per cent of the distributable cash from FPLP, that FPLP's first-quarter net earnings grew by $600,000, or 26 per cent, to $2.9 million despite revenues falling by $1.3 million, or 4.6 per cent, to $25.7 million.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were up 11.8 per cent to $4.4 million from $3.9 million.
The main reason for the improved bottom line was a $1.7 million (7.2 per cent) reduction in operating expenses during the quarter due to a combination of lower newsprint and employee compensation costs and a 16.6 decline in "other" expenses.
FP chairman and Free Press co-owner Ron Stern also praised Free Press employees for recently ratifying a new five-year collective agreement that included a number of cost-saving provisions. Among them were a three per cent wage increase over the life of the contract, lower wage rates for new employees hired after July 1 and increased employee contributions to the company pension plan.
"I believe they recognized what the reality was, and that for us to succeed in the long term we have to work together as a team," said Stern.
Shareholders were told the first-quarter revenue decline was broadly based, with circulation, display advertising, classified advertising and flyer distribution revenues all down from a year earlier. The only categories where revenues were up were digital and commercial printing.
The declines were blamed in part on there being two fewer publishing days in the first quarter of this year than in the first quarter of 2012.
FP Newspapers Inc.'s first-quarter net earnings climbed to $1 million, or 14.1 cents per share, from $800,000, or 11.6 cents per share, in the first three months of 2012.