Comcast Corp. maintained its streak of double-digit
cash-flow growth in the fourth quarter, bolstered by solid cable and QVC results.
The Philadelphia-based MSO said its quarterly revenue rose
19 percent, to $1.4 billion from $1.2 billion a year ago, while operating cash flow rose
17 percent, to $402.4 million from $345.2 million.
On a pro forma basis, as if the Scripps-Howard Cable
operations and E! Entertainment Television network were acquired in January 1996, revenue
and cash-flow results were up by 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively. That marks 12
consecutive quarters of double-digit cash-flow growth, the company said.
Comcast's Class A share price dipped slightly last
Monday, to $32 from $32.63, after the earnings report was released, but it rose to $33.19
the following day. Comcast is planning a daylong analysts' meeting in Philadelphia
Tuesday (March 3).
For the year, revenue rose 22 percent, to $4.9 billion from
$4 billion, and cash flow rose 22 percent, to $1.5 billion from $1.2 billion. The pro
forma rise in revenue was 13 percent and the cash-flow increase was 12 percent.
In the cable unit, pro forma fourth-quarter revenue rose 8
percent, to $536 million from $495.5 million in the year-ago period, and pro forma cash
flow rose 10 percent, to $263.1 million from $238.7 million.
For the year, cable revenue was up 10 percent, to $2.1
billion from $1.9 billion, and cash flow rose 8 percent, to $987.7 million from $914.7
million, both on a pro forma basis. Basic subscriber numbers grew at a 2 percent
annualized rate in the quarter, as Comcast ended the year with about 4.4 million
The QVC electronic-retailing unit continued to impress
analysts. Fourth-quarter revenue rose 17 percent, to $644.5 million from $549 million, and
cash flow rose 17 percent, to $106.8 million from $91.6 million. For the year, revenue
rose 13 percent, to $2.1 billion from $1.8 billion, and cash flow rose 12 percent, to
$337.7 million from $300.3 million.
QVC's gains reflect growth in the United Kingdom and
Germany. The longer-lived U.K. operation saw revenue rise nearly 70 percent on the year,
and it turned cash-flow-positive, Comcast said. In Germany, the cash-flow loss spiked up
last year, in line with expectations. Excluding the results in Germany, QVC's cash
flow rose about 21 percent last year.
In the cellular division, quarterly revenue was basically
flat, at $109.5 million, while operating cash flow dipped 14 percent, to $35.4 million,
because of marketing costs associated with new digital launches.
Comcast told analysts that it had stepped up its @Home
Network installations to 500 per week by the end of last year, from an average of 300 per
week during the year. The MSO ended the year with about 9,700 high-speed-data customers.
Also, Comcast ended last year with a debt-to-cash flow
ratio of less than 4-to-1, after starting the year at about 6-to-1, company officials