Blockbuster reports slim fourth-quarter profit

/ Source: The Associated Press

Blockbuster Inc., the world's largest video rental chain, reported a slim profit for the fourth quarter Wednesday in contrast to a loss a year ago, and said it would restate certain financials to correct lease accounting errors.

The company also said Wednesday it has extended its offer for rival Hollywood Entertainment Corp. to March 24 from its prior expiration date of March 11.

But the board of Hollywood Entertainment has told shareholders they should reject Blockbuster's bid in favor of a lower offer from a third video rental company, Movie Gallery Inc. It said there were "uncertainties and possible delays" in the Blockbuster offer that outweigh the higher price that Blockbuster is willing to pay.

In its earnings report Wednesday, Blockbuster said it earned $900,000 in the three months ended Dec. 31 versus a loss of $1.19 billion, or $6.57 per share, a year ago. Excluding share-based compensation, the company earned $12.3 million, or 7 cents per share, in the latest quarter, down from adjusted profit of $58 million, or 32 cents per share, last year.

Revenue increased 6.3 percent to $1.72 billion from $1.62 billion in the fourth quarter of last year. Total worldwide same-store revenue were flat with the year-ago period, as strong retail same-store sales growth was offset by declining same-store rental revenue.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were looking for the company to post earnings of 4 cents per share on sales of $1.63 billion in the latest quarter.

Chairman and CEO John Antioco said, "We are especially delighted with the rapid growth of our online business, which, in just seven months, has built a base of more than 750,000 subscribers. Based on our initial success in this area, we are accelerating our investment in Blockbuster Online, with a goal of achieving more than 2 million subscribers by the first quarter of 2006."

Blockbuster also said it is reviewing the company's lease accounting policies, and has identified technical errors in accounting practices related to leasehold improvements. After evaluating the impact of the errors, Blockbuster said it intends to restate some previously issued financial results.

Looking ahead, Blockbuster said it expects 2005 revenue to grow by a low-single digit percentage over 2004 revenue of $6.05 billion, as a result of increased active members and growth in the store base.

The company forecasts that 2005 operating income will be flat year-over-year before about $50 million of initial marketing and implementation costs associated with the launch of Blockbuster's "No Late Fees" policy and about $40 million in share-based compensation expense.

However, first-quarter operating income will be reduced by about $80 million in projected income from extended viewing fees, about $60 million in operating costs for Blockbuster Online, and $50 million in launch costs for "No Late Fees."