Cox Communications Moves to a Loss

The cable company's fourth-quarter loss follows a massive pretax gain in the year-ago period.
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Updated from 8:21 a.m. EST

Cox Communications

(COX)

Thursday said it posted a small loss in its fourth quarter, despite a sizable increase in revenue.

The cable company lost $11.3 million, or 2 cents a share, vs. a profit of $179.6 million, or 28 cents a share, a year ago, when the company recorded a $255.2 million pretax gain on its investments. Fourth-quarter results included an $875,000 in losses on investments.

On a conference call with analysts, CEO Jim Robbins suggested that Cox was not interested in going after a media content player, following

Comcast's

(CMCSA) - Get Report

bid for

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

Wednesday. Cox has been in a high-profile dispute with Disney's ESPN over programming costs.

Revenue in the fourth quarter rose 12% to $1.51 billion, thanks to increases in digital cable, high-speed Internet access and telephone subscriptions and higher basic cable rates.

"Customer demand for the tremendous value of our bundled video, voice and high-speed data services drove strong growth," the company said.

Still, average revenue per user from high-speed data services was down more than 3% from year-ago levels. "More customers are choosing self-installation," the company said on the call, which curbs revenue from setting up modems. The company also said product costs were lower in the quarter.

"We had been expecting some decrease (perhaps 1% sequentially) in ARPU as a result of higher self-installation rates," said Katherine Styponias, an analyst at Prudential, in a research note. "However, we did not see Cox aggressively promoting high-speed data through price reduction."

During the quarter, operating income increased 15% to $162 million while operating cash flow rose 14% to $561.8 million.

Looking ahead, Cox said it expects revenue to increase in 2004 by 11.5% to 12.5%, fractionally below the $6.49 billion consensus estimate, according to Thomson First Call.

Basic video customer growth is expected to be slightly less than 1%, while the company expects to add 1 million to 1.1 million subscribers for its advanced-service RGU. Cox said it had more than 5 million subscribers to its digital services at the end of January.

In recent trading, shares were lower $1.28, or 3.7%, to $32.75.