CanWest job cuts piece of the puzzle<br />

Company aims to save nearly $50 mil in operating costs

TORONTO -- CanWest Global Communications is synonymous with Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Canada's biggest media group was founded and remains headquartered.

So this month's decision by CanWest Global to cut back the print presence in Manitoba for the National Post, its flagship daily newspaper, signaled that the debt-heavy media group was serious about cutting costs in the face of the global economic slowdown.

Then, on Wednesday, CanWest Global unveiled plans to cut 560 TV and newspaper jobs nationally -- including three positions in Winnipeg.

The company said that cutting 5% of its 10,478-strong work force in Canada is aimed at saving CAN$61 million ($49.5 million) in annual operating costs.

When CanWest Global releases its fourth-quarter results and holds an analyst call on Friday, company CEO and controlling shareholder Leonard Asper will be under pressure to explain what additional measures he'll take to reduce debt costs and buttress a stock now in penny territory.

Those measures may well include asset sales, possibly Australia's TEN Network, in which CanWest Global has a 56% stake and depends on cash to service its CAN$3.6 billion (2.92 billion) debt load.

In an investor note this week, Citigroup analyst Digby Gilmour said a potential TEN Network sale was baked into its share price.

"In the event of a forced sale, we would expect low-ball bids only for TEN, given: I) hostile credit market conditions; II) gearing constraints of domestic trade buyers; and, III) a high degree of TEN earnings uncertainty," Gilmour wrote.

Back in Canada, Canwest Global's financial results are expected to indicate that broadcast profits are coming mostly from 13 cable channels acquired last The group's parallel over-the-air Canadian networks, which bore the brunt of job cuts outlined this week, are under threat from an advertising downturn and falling viewership for conventional TV overall.