August 2, 2013

Time Warner shares surge after profit tops estimates

But subscriber growth was slow in the quarter and more TV customers canceled than expected.

Bloomberg News

NEW YORK - Shares of Time Warner Cable Inc., the second-largest U.S. cable provider, rose the most in a month Thursday after its second-quarter profit exceeded estimates and the company said earnings growth would be "on the high end" of its forecast.

Net income rose 6.4 percent to $481 million, or $1.64 a share, from $452 million, or $1.43, a year earlier, the New York-based company said Thursday in a written statement. Excluding one-time costs, earnings per share were $1.69, beating the $1.65 average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg.

Time Warner Cable has been cutting promotions and discounts as part of a plan to emphasize profit over subscriber growth. The company added just 8,000 residential high-speed Internet subscribers, its lowest quarterly total in at least six years.

Adjusted earnings per share growth, meanwhile, will be on the high end of its full-year forecast of 10 percent to 15 percent, Time Warner Cable said.

"The financials were good," Jaison Blair, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group, said in an interview. "I think investors are looking through the subscriber trends now and thinking about future (mergers and acquisitions)."

Time Warner Cable shares rose 3.2 percent to $117.68 at the close in New York, marking the biggest one-day gain since June 28. The stock has climbed 21 percent this year.

Even so, Time Warner Cable's weak subscriber figures spotlighted its disparity with market leader Comcast Corp., which beat estimates for customer additions earlier this week.

Time Warner Cable lost more video customers than projected last quarter, with 191,000 subscribers leaving the company. Analysts had projected a drop of 164,000. Sales rose 2.7 percent to $5.55 billion, missing the $5.57 billion estimate.

The sluggish growth may also be leading investors to wonder if the company makes more sense as a takeover target, Blair said. Charter Communications Inc., the fourth-largest U.S. cable company, has studied a merger with Time Warner Cable, which would come with a potential investment by John Malone's Liberty Media Corp., people familiar with the matter have said.

"The stock isn't trading on fundamentals -- it's trading on how likely a deal is," said Craig Moffett, an analyst at Moffett Research in New York. "Time Warner Cable has to make a case for itself that it's worth more independently than it is in Charter's hands. If that's the test, they fail right now, and that's driving the stock up."

An acquisition by Charter would mean getting bought by a smaller peer, potentially loading up the new company with debt. Time Warner Cable Chief Financial Officer Artie Minson said Thursday that the company didn't want to increase its debt level, although "if something opportunistic came up we would look at it." He didn't comment on Charter.

Share buybacks last quarter totaled $638 million, or 6.6 million shares, compared with $660 million in the previous period. The company increased the remaining share repurchase authorization to $4 billion.

 

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