TheStreet's CEO Discusses Q4 2011 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

TheStreet (TST)

Q4 2011 Earnings Call

March 07, 2012 4:30 pm ET


Erica Mannion -

Daryl R. Otte - Chief Executive Officer and Director

Thomas J. Etergino - Chief Financial Officer


Michael Moskoff

Jusin Ruiss - Sidoti & Company, LLC



Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to TheStreet's Full Year and First Quarter 2011 Earnings Conference Call. This call is being webcast live on the Investor Relations section of TheStreet's website at This call is property of TheStreet, and any recordings, reproduction or transmission of this call without the expressed written consent of TheStreet is strictly prohibited.

As a reminder, today's call is being recorded. You may listen to the webcast replay of this call by going to the Investor Relations section of TheStreet's website.

I'd now like to turn the call over to Erica Mannion of Sapphire Investor Relations for TheStreet.

Erica Mannion

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us to discuss TheStreet's financial and operating results for 2011 fourth quarter and year end.

With me today are Daryl Otte, Chief Executive Officer; and Tom Etergino, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Today, Daryl will begin with an overview of the quarter and full year's progress and achievements, then Tom will review fourth quarter and full year financial results.

All statements made on this call, other than statements of historical facts, are deemed to be forward-looking statements as that term is defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

Such forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties, including those described in the company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that could cause actual results to differ materially from those reflected in the forward-looking statements.

Although the company believes that the expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, the company cannot guarantee future results or occurrences.

The company disclaims any obligation to update these forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise.

You may obtain copies of the company's filings with the SEC at the commission's website,

Any additional information related to matters discussed today will be also set forth in the company's report on Form 10-K which the company expects to file shortly.

Now I will turn the call over to Daryl Otte.

Daryl R. Otte

Thanks, Erica. Hi, everyone, and welcome to our fourth quarter and full year 2011 earnings call. As you will have seen from the earnings release we sent out earlier today, our results for the quarter were somewhat mixed, showing excellent progress strategically, yet with some lingering issues in monetization, particularly in the areas of advertising sales and new subscription account acquisition.

The monetization challenges were driven both by market environments and execution.

In the face of these challenges, we remain disciplined on the expense side by reducing headcount and bringing down G&A cost by 12% year-over-year.

This enabled us to increase our spending in editorial and sales and marketing to further the strategies needed to transform and modernize the business, while delivering on our goals for positive adjusted EBITDA and operating cash flow for the quarter and the year.

Throughout the year, but particularly in Q4, we delivered tangible progress in the rollout of our key strategic initiatives, namely TheStreet business desk, our mobile products and institutional premium services.

These initiatives are all engineered to bring our high-quality and engaging content to new incremental audiences, both within the financial vertical for retail and am-pro investors and beyond our traditional vertical to the broader business news market.

Success here was demonstrated by the impressive growth in the size of the audience consuming our content. Our internal logs measured 25% growth in average monthly unique visitors during the quarter compared to the same period last year, while comScore measured a 45% growth over the same period.

Importantly, the primary source of this growth was from encouraging adoption rates from our new initiatives, offsetting a general softness during the quarter and interest in investing content by retail investors.

The weak demand for investment related content from retail investors appeared to us to be an industry-wide condition, reflected in the volume of searches Google processed covering financially related terms and third-party measurements by comScore and others, covering the overall size of the audience for the investment vertical.

The market challenges will be familiar to the investment community listening to our call today. Retail investors seeking to purchase a premium service to use to enter the market and start investing and the advertisers that seek to reach those investors, both moved to the sidelines in the spring of 2011 and had not yet returned by the close of the year.

Evidence of this includes the publicly reported new account acquisition rates for online brokerages, which were down in the double-digits.

Online brokerage daily average revenue trade or DART volumes were down generally as well and even broader exchange trading volumes were down.

Given these conditions, we were happy to have a strategic hedge, our new initiatives driving audience growth and extending our business into verticals less dependent upon the retail investor. Herein, however, some execution issues remain unresolved. On the advertising side, our team is not yet delivering sufficiently well in monetizing the new incremental audiences that are driving our growth, particularly in establishing new advertiser relationships in the business and technology categories.

Indeed, in Q4, the number and dollar volume from financial advertisers declined year-over-year as one might expect given the market conditions.

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