Comcast’s quarterly earnings plunge 69 percent

/ Source: The Associated Press

Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable TV operator, said Thursday its net income for the fourth quarter plunged by 69 percent, as a decline in investment and other income and a sharply higher tax rate overcame a 9 percent jump in revenue.

It’s the first time since the third quarter of 2004 that Comcast’s profits fell.

The Philadelphia-based company said earnings came to $133 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with $423 million, or 19 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter.

Excluding certain unusual items, Comcast said its fourth-quarter profit would have come to $186 million, or 9 cents a share.

Revenue came to $5.7 billion compared with $5.24 billion in the prior year. A highlight of the quarter was Comcast’s high-speed Internet business, which rose by a brisk 24 percent. But Comcast also said its tax rate rose to 69 percent from 49 percent a year ago.

Comcast’s overall revenue was in line with expectations of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial, but they were projecting profits of 15 cents a share.

Operating cash flow rose by 8.5 percent to $2.15 billion in the quarter.

The company added 839,000 revenue generating units in the quarter, which are unique subscriptions for a service. Revenue per subscriber rose 9 percent to $84.12 per month.

For fiscal 2006, Comcast said cable as well as consolidated revenue are expected to increase by 9 to 10 percent. Revenue generating units should top 3.5 million, primarily driven by its digital voice service.

In the quarter, cable revenue rose by 8.4 percent to $5.4 billion. Video revenue per subscriber rose 6 percent to $53.29.

Comcast added 40,000 basic and 342,000 digital subscribers in the quarter for a total of 21.4 million customers from coast to coast.

High-speed Internet revenue came to $1.06 billion in the quarter, up 24 percent. The company added 378,000 net new customers with an average revenue per subscriber of $42.82.

Comcast’s digital voice revenue continues to be lackluster, with revenue flat in the quarter.

But revenue from its content side — which includes its networks E! Entertainment Television and Style Network, The Golf Channel and OLN — climbed 14 percent to $235 million.

However, content cash flow fell by 38 percent, reflecting the impact of the National Hockey League contract at OLN.

Comcast also bought back $900 million worth of shares in the quarter, for a 2005 total of $2.3 billion. Its board of directors authorized an additional $5 billion of repurchases.