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AOL Tops First-Quarter Estimate

AOL-Time Warner (AOL) beat analysts' estimates for the first quarter, but took a major charge to write down some of its investments.

As expected, the company's online, cable and television networks divisions made the biggest contributions to the company's bottom line, while the company's music and movies operations were the weakest.

In the quarter, the media and entertainment conglomerate reported cash earnings per share of 23 cents, up from the 19 cents a share pro forma figure a year earlier and ahead of the consensus of 20 cents forecast by analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial/First Call. Revenue for the quarter was $9.1 billion, up from $8.3 billion a year ago. The merger of the former America Online and Time Warner was completed in January, so last year's first quarter was reported on a pro forma basis, or as if the companies were merged then.

Joining other companies that have written down the value of their stock portfolios in recent months, AOL-Time Warner took a $620 million noncash pretax charge against the value of publicly traded and privately held investments in its portfolio that suffered, as the company put it in its earnings announcement, "other-than-temporary declines." The company didn't immediately specify which investments were written down.

Including that writedown and merger-related expenses of $71 million, the company reported a net loss of $1.4 billion, or 31 cents per share. That compares to a similar net loss of $1.5 billion, or 34 cents per share, one year earlier.

The company touted its results as a fulfillment of the promise of the merger that created AOL-Time Warner. "Our businesses are working together as one, unified organization to deliver shareholder value over the near- and long-term," CEO Jerry Levin said in a statement.

The company reported earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $2.1 billion for the quarter, up from $1.8 billion a year ago. AOL-Time Warner has set a goal of $11 billion EBITDA for the year.

Among other operating highlights, advertising and commerce revenue from the America Online service hit $721 million, up sequentially from the fourth-quarter figure of $686 million. Most other Internet companies, including Yahoo! (YHOO), have reported sequential declines.

Advertising and commerce revenue from cable operations fell sequentially from $160 million in the fourth quarter to $117 million in the first, though the first-quarter advertising and commerce figures were up 17% from a year ago. The company added 400,000 digital cable subscribers in the quarter, off the pace of the 479,000 subscribers it added in the fourth quarter. But the rate of subscriber additions to AOL-Time Warner's Road Runner high-speed cable service grew slightly, from 227,000 new subscribers in fourth quarter to 237,000 in first quarter.

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