Comcast sees high-speed profits
The cable company's fourth-quarter earnings see a surprising jump.
Comcast (CMCSA) said Wednesday that fourth-quarter profits shot up 26%, largely due to growth in its broadband and business-services divisions. The cable provider also said that it had curbed defections of pay-TV subscribers for the fifth quarter in a row.
The company announced a 44% dividend increase and a $6.5 billion share buyback program.
The numbers make for fascinating reading. Comcast reported a profit of $1.29 billion for the fourth quarter, higher than the $1.02 billion earned a year earlier. Earnings rose to 47 cents per share from 36 cents, beating the 41 cents analysts expected.
Revenue increased 55% to $15.04 billion, or 3% on a pro-forma basis after accounting for Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal. That beat analyst expectations of $14.87 billion. Within NBC Universal, revenue increased by less than 1%, and cash flow fell by 6.8%.
Taking the costs of all deals into account, operating cash flow increased 3.5%. About 80% of that comes from Comcast's cable-distribution division.
The numbers are all the more impressive when considering that Comcast, along with most cable providers, have struggled recently in the slowdown in the traditional cable business combined with a weak housing market. Fewer people were moving or relocating in the economic downturn, leading to a drop in new service calls.
Comcast saw video-subscriber losses slow in the fourth quarter to 17,000, an 87% improvement from the previous year. Apparently, Comcast's marketing campaigns are paying off. In addition, the provider added 336,000 high-speed Internet customers in the fourth quarter -- 15% more than it added a year earlier.
There were also 146,000 new telephone subscribers, although that increase is 43% less than 2011. Of course, telephone subscriptions are going to fall in this cell phone age. Many people don't have landlines in their homes at all. So the fact that CMCSA managed to pull in that many new landline subscribers is impressive.
In a Wednesday research report, Deutsche Bank noted Comcast's impressive video-subscriber performance and cable revenue, and said the 2012 return-of-capital plan is at the upper end of its $4 billion to $5 billion estimate range.
Another analyst firm, Miller Tabak & Co., said that the revenue misses at Comcast's cable and NBC Universal arms were more than offset by margin expansion, free-cash-flow conversion, a larger-than-expected dividend increase and a new $6.5 billion stock buyback plan.
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