Comcast stems subscriber losses

Posted: February 15, 2012

Answering Wall Street's call for higher returns to shareholders after stabilizing its cable-TV subscriber losses, Comcast Corp. said this morning it would boost its annual dividend 44 percent to 65 cents a share and repurchase $6.5 billion in company shares, with $3 billion of it spent this year.

The nation's largest cable provider disclosed its shareholder plans in its earnings report, which showed it lost only 17,000 cable-TV subscribers in the fourth quarter. That's compared against a loss of 135,000 subscribers in the same period one year ago.

Comcast also substantially improved its TV subscriber losses on a year-over-year basis-losing 460,000 subscribers in 2011 compared with 757,000 in 2010.

Company CEO Brian Roberts said the cable division had a "terrific quarter of improving customer metrics."

Comcast, which faces fierce competition from satellite-TV, Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T, added 336,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, a main source of growth that seems to have recovered from the bad economy. Comcast added 292,000 Internet subscribers in the year-ago period.

Though the report showed a healthy franchise in Comcast's traditional cable-TV and Internet businesses, the company's recently acquired news and entertainment division, NBCUniversal, struggled with revenue declines in broadcast-TV and movies. NBCUniversal's theme park and cable networks grew steadily over the quarter.

Revenue on a pro forma basis for Comcast rose 3 percent to $15.04 billion for the quarter ended Dec. 31 and net income soared 45 percent to $1.3 billion because of the addition of the NBCUniversal.

Free cash flow-which can be used to pay the dividend, the share repurchase plan, capital investments or acquisitions-soared more than 60 percent to $1.9 billion as the company has upgraded its network and no longer needs big investments to boost Internet speeds and improve TV quality.

With the higher dividend payment, and based on Comcast's pre-market share price of $27.25, the company pays a 2.38 percent yield with its dividend. Based on pre-market prices, Comcast's peers in the telecommunications still pay higher yields with their dividends-Time Warner Cable pays a 3 percent, Cablevision 4.1 percent and Verizon 5 percent.

Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement, "Last year was a very important year for our company. Cable continued to drive innovation, increase new product introductions and transform the customer experience, and we successfully integrated NBCUniversal.

"We also reported strong financial and operating results in both the fourth quarter and for the full year. Specifically, cable had another terrific quarter of improving customer metrics, demonstrating that our new XFINITY brand and our intensified focus on service and innovation are making a real difference. Our results at NBCUniversal underscore the strong performance of the cable networks and theme parks, and we continue to make progress enhancing the franchise values of its businesses."

Investors appeared to be pleased with Comcast's quarterly and full-year results. Comcast's Class A shares surged in pre-market activity on the Nasdaq and then held those gains. It  finished up $1.27, or 4.7%, to close at $28.52. Trading activity was brisk. More than 35 million shares were traded, compared with average daily volume of 16.6 million shares.


Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com

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