I'd Rather Own Gannett Than Facebook

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Still relatively unnoticed and under-appreciated, shares of Gannett ( GCI) hit a 52-week high Tuesday, closing at $17. That's the first close above $17 since February 2011 for this company, which many still see as a dinosaur.

It also marks the continuation of Gannett's struggle for relevance in the eyes of investors since it looked like it might implode in early 2009.

At that time, its shares were changing hands for less than two bucks. Advertising was in a deep slump, amid the recession we were struggling through, and the company was burdened with debt to the tune of $3.8 billion. No one wanted to own a newspaper company.

GCI Chart GCI data by YCharts

But Gannett is more than that, owning nearly two dozen television stations and a digital unit that, combined, generated more than 60% of last quarter's operating income.

The company wisely cleaned up its balance sheet and paid down debt, which now stands at just under $1.7 billion. The quarterly dividend, which had been cut to 4 cents from 40 cents in early 2009, has been raised back to 20 cents, for a solid 4.9% yield.

Given the amount of free cash flow Gannett has been generating and its rather low 33% payout ratio, there may be room to increase that dividend further. The company has also been buying back stock.

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