Clear Channel Communications Inc. posted a slim increase in fourth-quarter profit as weak local advertising at radio stations was offset by gains in its billboard business.

Clear Channel Communications Inc. posted a slim increase in fourth-quarter profit as weak local advertising at radio stations was offset by gains in its billboard business.

Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio station owner, released figures today (Feb. 24) showing earnings of $187 million, or 30 cents per share, in the October-December period, up from $184 million, also 30 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected earnings of 33 cents per share.

The San Antonio-based company says revenue rose 4%, to $2.29 billion from $2.21 billion.

Chairman/CEO Lowry Mays says the company performed at "a high level during a challenging economic period."

For the year, Clear Channel earned $1.15 billion, or $1.85 per share, compared to $725 million, or $1.18 per share, in 2002. Revenue for 2003 was $8.93 billion, up from $8.42 billion in 2002.

Clear Channel says radio revenue fell 1% in 2003 due to weak local advertising. Outdoor-advertising revenue, however, rose 17%, helped by an increase in some domestic advertising and favorable currency-exchange rates.

Clear Channel reduced its debt by about $1.8 billion in 2003 to nearly $7.1 billion at the end of the year. The company says it will increase its earnings-per-share for 2004 by mid- to high-teens percentage points -- analysts were already expecting a 22% increase -- and raise its operating income to the low double digits during the year.

In late morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Clear Channel shares were down $1.64, or 3.7%, to $42.20.