Cable TV system operator Cox Communications ( COX) met analysts' fourth-quarter revenue and earnings expectations Tuesday, as operating cash flow rose from a year ago. But like Comcast ( CMCSK) and Charter ( CHTR), two other cable operators that recently reported results for the fourth quarter, Cox's results ignored the cost of moving its high-speed Internet access customers from the ailing Excite@Home's network to an in-house Internet service provider.
In Tuesday trading, Cox's shares rose 23 cents to $35.42. For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, Cox said earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization -- a common cash-flow yardstick employed by cable operators and other media companies -- rose 12% from a year ago, to $432.5 million. Pro forma revenue jumped 14% to $1.08 billion, matching the mean analyst forecast from Thomson Financial/First Call. The latest-period EBITDA figure, however, excludes a $155.7 million cost of making the high-speed Internet access transition from Excite@Home, which filed for bankruptcy protection. Including that transition cost, $374.4 million in depreciation, plus other items included under generally accepted accounting principles, Cox reported a fourth-quarter loss of $110.1 million, or 18 cents per share, compared to a loss of $71.6 million, or 12 cents per share, in the corresponding quarter of 2000. The 18-cent loss -- which also reflects a $135.9 million gain on derivative instruments -- matched analysts' EPS expectations, though Wall Street is more apt to focus on operating cash flow numbers. Looking forward, the company forecasts revenue growth of 14%-15% for 2002 and operating cash flow growth of 13%-14%, both slightly better than its pro forma 2001 performance. The company, which added a total of 1.15 million customers for Internet access, digital video and telephone service in 2001, says it expects to meet or exceed those results in 2002.