Rebel Wilson is not Bauer Media's biggest problem
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Rebel Wilson is not Bauer Media's biggest problem

Rebel Wilson is not the biggest headache facing German publishing billionaire, Yvonne Bauer, as her local publishing group Bauer Media prepares a legal challenge to the multi-million dollar defamation payout awarded to the Aussie actor.

The woes of Australia's magazine publishers don't bear thinking about, and Wilson's $4.5 million win is just a drop in a bucket of trouble for Bauer as its local financial accounts reveal.

Rebel Wilson arriving to the Supreme Court, Melbourne, for her libel case against Woman's Day.

Rebel Wilson arriving to the Supreme Court, Melbourne, for her libel case against Woman's Day.

Photo: Penny Stephens

Bauer Media's local arm - once the pride of Kerry Packer's media empire with titles like Woman's Day and Australian Women's Weekly (AWW) - reported losses totalling $116 million for the 2014 and 2015 financial years.

These accounts, lodged just months ago, are the most recent financial accounts available for the media group, which Bauer acquired for more than $525 million in 2012.

The financial accounts reveal that Bauer's "current liabilities exceed current assets by $51.6 million". It notes that "the ability of the group to continue as a going concern is dependent upon ongoing support and funding from the ultimate parent, Heinrich Bauer Verlag KG. The parent has confirmed in writing that it will provide financial support to the level required by the group … for a period of no less than 12 months from the date of approval of these financial statements."

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The Bauer board used this to justify preparing the accounts on a "going concern basis."

While Bauer wrote down the value of its assets by $140 million over the two years, the losses are not cosmetic.

Th cash flow statement for 2015 reveal that the company's operating cash flow was negative to the tune of more than $12 million.

It looks like the advertising and subscription revenues were not sufficient to cover the costs of running the business.

The German parent had to provide a $30 million loan to keep the business afloat with advertising and circulation revenue falling by around $50 million from the prior year.

Bauer's local boss, Paul Dykzeul, provided a statement to CBD noting that: "Bauer is a privately owned company and does not comment specifically on the financial position of the business".

He did not address CBD's queries as to whether Bauer is still reliant on the financial support of its parent, Heinrich Bauer Verlag for its survival, or if its business is currently profitable.

He did say that the 2015 result included "substantial restructuring costs" on top of the impairment charges.

"Our parent company is deeply committed to the Australian and New Zealand business," said Dykzeul.

"Bauer in Australia is being led by a very strong group of executives who are committed to ongoing financial growth and success. Growth is about us continuing to build profit, revenue, shareholder value and audiences into 2018 and beyond."

Bauer has now spent $575 million on its Australian business.

Bauer entered the Australian market just as the magazine publishing market went into a deep slump.

The publisher had its internal issues as well. This includes five different chief executives in three years - along with the departure of prominent editors like AWW's Helen McCabe.

Bauer has shut high profile titles like Madison, Women's Fitness, Grazia, Zoo Weekly, Bourke's Backyard, BBC Good Food and last year it added Cleo to the list of closed titles.

Dykzeul was philosophical about the closures.

"Print publishing has a great future but the model under which the industry operated doesn't work like it once did," he said.

"At Bauer, we are changing the way we do things. It is a desperate irony in the publishing world, whenever something closes, that people think it's a failure. In every other business, things launch and close and that is part of sound business strategy."

Jayne's addiction

Qantas has not even got around to changing its chairman, Leigh Clifford, for boardroom newcomer Richard Goyder - let alone contemplate replacing its CEO, Alan Joyce.

So is it any wonder that one of the airline's potential CEOs-in-waiting, Jayne Hrdlicka, has left to head A2 Milk less than a month after she took the role of Qantas Loyalty boss. Oh the irony.

At least we can rest assured she will almost certainly not be following the recent trend of the replacement CEO earning less money than the former incumbent..

Geoff Babidge's remuneration at A2 Milk last year topped $857,000.

Hrdlicka's actual remuneration at Qantas last year topped $8 million - almost double her pay from the previous year.

Babidge's real bonus though is the five million partly paid shares that were granted four years ago.

He needs to pay 64c for the shares which are now worth more than $7 - which will deliver him a windfall of more than $30 million.

As recently as 2015, the stock was worth less than 50c.

It will be hard for Hrdlicka to deliver the same sort of return given A2 Milk now has a market capitalisation of more than $5 billion. Qantas is currently worth $9 billion.

Follow CBD on Twitter. Got a tip? ckruger@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Colin Kruger

Colin Kruger is a business reporter. He joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1999 as its technology editor. Other roles have included the Herald's deputy business editor and online business editor.

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