Andrew S. Ross
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Might a media company based in Northern California follow the Tribune Co.’s example and be the next to seek some “breathing space” from its debts, i.e., file Chapter 11? No way, said Gary Pruitt, CEO of Sacramento’s McClatchy Co. Talking to a reporter after his presentation Tuesday at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference in New York, he said McClatchy is “not facing anything close to what they have been. I was disappointed about the bankruptcy filing, that’s all I can say.”

But speculation has swirled around the indebted chain, which owns the Sacramento Bee, the Modesto and Fresno Bees and 27 other papers nationwide. Reports this week suggest it’s looking to offload the Miami Herald, acquired as part of Pruitt’s ill-timed $4.5 billion purchase of Knight-Ridder papers in 2006. Pruitt wouldn’t comment on that, either.

Along with other newspaper chains, McClatchy has seen double-digit drops in revenue, circulation and newsroom staff. Stock price in 2005 – $76. Closing bell Tuesday – $2.35. “Our current results are lousy, and the economy seems to be worsening,” Pruitt told the UBS audience. On the upside, he noted that McClatchy paid down $404 million in debt through the first nine months of 2008. That leaves a current balance of $2.07 billion on which “further progress” was being made. Even better, by the second half of next year, “the recession may have bottomed or perhaps the economy may even have returned to growth,” he said.

All in all, said Pruitt, he approached the New Year “with a strong sense of resolve.” Like others in the business, he’s going to need it.

Missing at the top: Even in these days of endless zeros, losing $81 billion is nothing to sneeze at, as Carolyn Said’s front page story on CalPERS “walloping” made clear on Monday. So isn’t it about time it had a CEO? Or a permanent chief investment officer?

In fact, CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension fund has been without its two top executives for more than six months. The earliest the CEO spot will be filled? “Later this month,” according to CalPERS spokesperson. “The board is doing its finalist interviews.” And the CIO? “The search firm we contracted has lots of CIO candidates. We anticipate completing the search process within the coming weeks, likely not until 2009.”

I guess things have been moseying along just swell without them.

Lending less: Among the hardest-hit victims of the credit crunch are minority-owned local businesses. That’s depressingly clear from a report just issued by Berkeley’s Greenlining Institute.

It found that SBA-backed loans, upon which many such businesses depend when they can’t get credit elsewhere, fell by almost 40 percent in California this year, a 10 percent greater decline than the national figure. In addition to the credit crunch, which triggered restrictive provisions in the program, Bush administration cuts to SBA’s budget haven’t helped, says the public policy and advocacy group’s program manager, Christian Gonzalez Rivera.

The declines were reflected in the falloff in SBA-backed loans to minority businesses provided by some of the country’s major lending banks. They include Bank of America, which Rivera says has been the “traditional leader” in the field. Its minority loans fell by 73 percent, according to data obtained from the SBA.

Doing better, according to Rivera’s survey: JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. San Francisco’s Wells Fargo & Co. came in fourth in number of minority loans given, and eighth in the percentage of all its SBA-backed loans. That was a considerable improvement over previous years, said Rivera.

The Greenlining Institute’s report was sent to the major banks on Monday. To read or download a PDF of the report go to

Give and ye shall receive: The accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers looked as though it joined the corporate meanies by canceling its holiday parties. But wait. It says it will donate the money saved – $1.5 million – to charity and will give 10 hours of paid time off for staff to volunteer for the cause of their choice. Among the San Francisco charities it will be donating to, PwC tells us, are the Boys and Girls Club and the San Francisco Food Bank. PwC says it aims to provide enough for more than 70,000 meals a day in San Francisco during the holiday season.

Food for the fired: Helping Yahoo employees about to be laid off before the holidays, San Francisco’s TokBox, an online video service, says it will have a taco truck outside at Yahoo’s Sunnyvale headquarters today. It addition to the free tacos, it will have a list of job openings on hand.