The New York Times’ gravity-defying 2013

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Shares in the New York Times Company climbed above the $16 mark yesterday (Dec. 30), and look poised to end 2013 at their highest levels in more than five years after rising more than 90% since the start of the year.

It might seem curious, given that advertising revenue at the company fell for the 12th straight quarter in October, to its lowest level since 1998. Rumors are always swirling around the Times, but nobody seems to be taking seriously claims by the eccentric Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbio, best known for selling canned fresh air in Beijing, that he wants to buy the company (link in Chinese).

But media companies are highly cyclical, and much of the recent uptick could be attributed to growing confidence in the broader economic recovery. Barclays analysts said last month that weakness in newspaper advertising this year has been more cyclical than structural, and that the New York Times could stand to benefit from a stronger economy in 2014. The company is planning a string of new strategic initiatives for next year, including cheaper subscriptions, new international products and more games.

As the above chart shows, it’s been an eventful five years for the Times. It has spent the better part of that period shoring up its balance sheet (it’s gone from being deeply indebted in 2009, to a being net cash position) by selling off non-core assets, trimming costs and suspending its dividend. It’s also appointed its first female executive editor, changed CEOs, attracted one of the world’s richest individuals as an investor, and introduced a new subscription-based digital business model.

2014 will be another critical year, and the whole media industry will be watching.