Comcast Beats Analyst Q4 Estimates

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With the attention focused on its NBC Universal programming joint venture for more than a year, Comcast reported fourth-quarter and year-end results Wednesday that reminded investors that it is still the dominant cable distribution force in the country, with strong growth across all metrics.
Comcast beat analysts' estimates on practically every front - basic video losses at 135,000 were far below consensus estimates of 206,000 losses, revenue and cash flow growth at 7.2% and 9% respectively solidly beat expectations. As a result the MSO hiked its annual dividend payout 19% to 45 cents per share and boosted its share repurchase authorization to $2.1 billion by the end of 2011.
"We have strong financial and operational and financial momentum; we're starting to execute the many unique opportunities that are available to Comcast, now that NBC Universal is now a part of our company," Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said on a conference call with analysts Wednesday.
Comcast closed the NBCU transaction on Jan. 28.
Sanford Bernstein cable and satellite analyst Craig Moffett praised the results -" there's not a single meaningful operating number that it didn't beat," he wrote in a research report Wednesday. But he was slightly disappointed at the level of buybacks. Although he called the buyback acceleration a "welcome development," he had hoped that it would have been slightly more.
Investors appeared pleased - Comcast stock was up 3% (74 cents each) in early trading Wednesday to $24.90 per share.
Total revenue for the quarter was $9.7 billion, up 7.2% compared to the prior year. Cable operations revenue was up 6.9% to $9.2 billion and content revenue rose 13.6% to $419 million. Operating cash flow for the entire company was up 9% to $3.7 billion. Cable OCF was up 8.7% to $3.8 billion and content operating cash flow rose 1.6% to $46 million in the period. Free cash flow for the combined company increased 46% to $1.1 billion in the quarter and 22% to $5.4 billion for the full year.
Fueling that growth was continued strong performance in high speed Internet - subscribers rose by 292,000 in the quarter and by 1 million for the year, the fifth consecutive year Comcast added 1 million or high-speed Internet customers. Voice subscribers rose by 257,000 in the period.
For the year, revenue rose 6.1% to $37.9 billion and OCF was up 6.4% to $14.6 billion.

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