Amidst Eisner Rumors, Tribune Co. Says It's ‘Making Solid Progress’

L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune owners release financials, claiming troubled media company is “just getting started”

If the rumors are true and Michael Eisner is taking over the troubled Tribune Company, the former Disney CEO might be happier Thursday with the state of affairs at the media giant.

At least according to the 2010 financial highlights that the owners of the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and TV stations released, things are looking up at the bottom line.

For one thing, the company, in a monthly operating report being filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, says it has about $1.6 billion in cash on hand.

“We are making solid financial progress,” Tribune CEO Randy Michaels said in a statement. “Despite the noise surrounding our Chapter 11 process and a tough economic environment, we have not only stabilized our business, but in 2010 we have grown operating cash flow — and we’re really just getting started.”

The company’s release says that:

- Operating cash flow increased substantially in both publishing and broadcasting compared to the same period in 2009.

- The company generated approximately $100 million more in consolidated operating cash flow compared to the same period last year, and in the month of July alone, generated $18 million more in consolidated operating cash flow compared to July 2009.

- Consolidated operating cash flow increased 44% and consolidated operating cash flow margin increased to 18% from 12% for the first seven months of 2009.

While not directly addressing the almost fatal debt that has landed the once mighty Tribune in bankruptcy court and continuing negotiations with banks and creditors such as JP Morgan Chase and NYC Equity firm Angelo, Gordon and Company, the company is definitely putting its best face forward. “Part of the reason that this statement came out,” a person familiar with the situation at Tribune told TheWrap, “is so people get a better sense of how well we’re actually doing.”

While declining to address specific numbers, L.A. Times spokesperson Nancy Sullivan told TheWrap that despite a circulation decline, staff resignations and reductions, the paper considers itself individually and as part of the Tribune to be “in pretty good shape.”

Of course that and whether Eisner or another big name CEO takes over from current Chairman Sam Zell doesn’t solve the 20-month ongoing Chapter 11 case. Among various twists and turns, investigators have found what they call “dishonesty” in the 2007  $8.2 billion leveraged buyout by Zell of the company.

Tribune, whose lawyers met for an hour with creditors today in Wilmington, has said it plans to submit a revised reorganization scheme to the court by Aug. 27. The Delaware court will review it for a Sept 15 hearing. However with major Tribune creditors having walked away on Aug. 20 from a settlement agreement that would have given them ownership of the company, that might not, once again be enough to get the company upright.

“There is money to be made out of the Tribune properties,” a NYC-based financial analyst said to TheWrap, “but nobody has any confidence that the present management are the people to do.”

The current CEO certainly sounds like he does.

In an email to company employees earlier Thurs, Randy Michaels said that the apparent upward swing “are further testimony to your talent, your creativity, and your hard work.  Keep it up.  We have a lot more to do … but we’ve established some solid momentum.”