President Donald Trump regularly describes the New York Times as “failing” on Twitter. It’s the kind of failure most businesses would kill for. Shares in the publisher of “Gray Lady”, as the newspaper is nicknamed, have quadrupled over the past four years, recording a succession of new highs this summer.
Without one another, the liberal media and the populist president would inspire less loyalty in their target constituencies. For the NYT, a second Trump term would be a political disaster — but a boost to business.
The Trump Show has helped the news industry arrest a decade-long structural decline. Ratings at cable TV networks are up. So are subscriber numbers at national newspapers, even as local newspapers and digital start-ups struggle.
The NYT reported 6.5m subscribers — most of them digital — in its most recent quarterly earnings. That is 4.1m more than four years ago. The growth in paid subscriptions during the second quarter helped offset a 44 per cent collapse in advertising revenue and limiting the drop in net income for the period to just 6 per cent or $23.6m.
Even so, the impressive digital subscription engine built by the NYT would not be enough to protect it from a “Trump slump”. With just three weeks to go, odds are growing that the November 3 elections could unleash a Blue Wave whereby the Democrats win the presidency and both chambers of Congress.
The hunger for news and analysis would reduce with a conventional president in charge and relative normalcy returning to US politics.
At 39 times price to forward earnings, NYT shares are hardly cheap. The group has provided important proof of the concept — once wrongly dismissed by tech pundits — that readers will pay directly for professional journalism.
Shares in Fox Corporation, which owns Trump-friendly TV networks, are only on 15 times earnings. Curiously, a Trump defeat might hurt Fox a lot less than it would the Gray Lady. A Biden presidency would give its commentators plenty to fulminate against.
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