Trump’s Ire Fuels New York Times Rally as Digital Plan Gains Traction

New York Times Co. stock reached a 1-1/2-year high as the newspaper seized the opportunity of Donald Trump’s presidential election to show investors its digital might.

Times Co. added 276,000 new digital news subscribers in the fourth quarter, the most since the company started offering the paper digital-only in 2011. It’s on pace to shatter that record in the first quarter, having already reached the 200,000 mark.

The shares rose as much as 6.6 percent to $14.45 Friday, their highest intraday price since June 2015.

“The New York Times has by far the best paywall strategy of any of the newspapers with Wall Street Journal at a distant second,” Craig Huber, media analyst at the independent research firm Huber Research Partners, said in an interview. “The digital success is energizing investors, despite print circulation and print advertising declines not abating and higher-than-expected cost growth.”

Trump’s election is helping Times Co. build the largest digital business of any news organization and fend off challenges from tech platforms like Facebook that are taking advertising sales from newspapers globally. The president has railed against the Times, accusing the paper of unfair news coverage of him. But those criticisms, often in the form of early-morning tweets, amount to free advertising for the Times and have helped feed the subscription surge.

The Times now has 1.6 million paying online-only news customers, up 47 percent from a year ago. But while the digital business is delivering off-the-charts performance, print ad sales continue to plummet, down 20 percent in the fourth quarter. Digital advertising now represents 42 percent of total ad revenue, compared with 34 percent a year earlier.

Digital is driving circulation, too. In the first quarter, the Times is expected to see a 6 percent increase in circulation revenue thanks to online subscriptions, Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson said in a conference call Thursday. Digital-only revenue will grow at 25 percent, he said.