MEDIA company Avusa has come to the defence of its new daily newspaper, The Times, denying rumours that it planned to close the title after results on Friday showed group profits had dropped 61% as a result of reduced consumer spending and a 20% drop in advertising revenue, writes Chantelle Benjamin in Business Day.

The Times is delivered free to Sunday Times subscribers.

Avusa’s disappointing results did not come as a surprise as earlier in the month the company issued a trading update signalling that its headline earnings per share for the six months to September were expected to be 55%-65% lower than the corresponding period last year and that earnings per share were expected to be 67%-77% lower.

This did not stop the share price from dropping 10% in trade on Friday following the release of the results. But the share price regained some of its strength and closed 7,51% lower at R16. This was despite assurances from Avusa that shareholders would receive a dividend at the end of the financial year.

Avusa CEO Prakash Desai on Friday said there was no truth to rumours of The Times’ closure — most likely sparked by the recent demise of Business Day’s sister newspaper The Weekender as a result of difficult trading conditions. Avusa owns 50% of BDFM, owner of The Weekender.

He said The Times managed to reduce losses in the half year to R8m, and had until the end of 2011 to break even, he said.

“We have had strong retail support for The Times, all the major retail advertisers are there, which is singularly the most positive sign for The Times. ”

Avusa admitted on Friday that it was hit by reduced consumer spending and advertising revenue, in particular by its reliance on recruitment advertising, which hit Sunday Times particularly hard.

The company said that it expected softer advertising and the discretionary retail environment to continue in the second half of its financial year.

Avusa has come under some criticism from analysts for its heavy reliance on recruitment advertising.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.