Updated from 7:05 a.m. Time Warner ( TWX) posted a strong quarter Wednesday, bolstered by solid performances in film, networks and cable TV operations, and raised its 2004 cash flow guidance. For the second quarter ended June 30, the multimedia conglomerate reported earnings of $777 million, or 17 cents a share. That's down from the year-ago $1.06 billion, or 24 cents a share, but ahead of the Thomson First Call estimate of 15 cents. Revenue rose to $10.88 billion from $9.92 billion a year earlier, easily beating the $10.4 billion consensus. Operating income before depreciation and amortization jumped 30% to $2.64 billion, again beating analysts' expectations of $2.51 billion. New York-based Time Warner also guided to double-digit percentage gains in 2004 oibda, citing revenue gains and margin expansion. The company reaffirmed that it expects its America Online unit to generate $1 billion in free cash flow for the year. "We're particularly pleased that all of our business segments contributed to the company's growth for the second consecutive quarter," CEO Dick Parsons said in a statement. "This strong year-to-date performance across the board reinforces our confidence that we'll achieve our 2004 financial objectives." "I feel pretty good about the operations of the company at this point in time," Parsons said in a Web cast meeting with analysts Wednesday. "Our full year growth will meaningfully exceed last year's." Among other factors helping the revenue line, intersegment eliminations -- reflecting sales made by one unit of Time Warner to another -- came in about $100 million lower than analysts had expected. In line with expectations, cable systems reported revenue of $2.1 billion and oibda of $817 million. The company lost 21,000 basic subscribers in the quarter and added 127,000 high-speed data subscribers -- both numbers at the low end of expectations. Don Logan -- chairman of Time Warner's Media & Communications group -- said the company hadn't done a good job of marketing basic cable over the past few years. "We're going to get much more aggressive about that going forward," he said, adding that he thought the company needed to recapture share in the basic business from satellite. "I think we have an opportunity to do it," he said. Logan's comments about needing to pay more attention to basic cable echoed those made by Comcast executives earlier Wednesday, which came as Comcast cut its forecast for basic cable growth. Suggesting that Comcast needed to be more aggressive about the basic cable market, CEO Brian Roberts said, "No, we don't want to sacrifice the bottom end of the market and surrender it." The lower high-speed data additions come as Time Warner's big telco rivals -- ranging from Verizon ( VZ) to SBC ( SBC) -- have also reported
slower-than-expected growth in high-speed Internet connections.
America Online reported revenue of $2.18 billion for the quarter, compared to expectations of $2.1 billion, and oibda of $487 million, including a $10 million noncash impairment charge related to the sale of a building. Analysts had expected oibda of about $450 million. The AOL service, which lost 2.2 million U.S. subscribers over the prior 12 months, lost 668,000 subscribers in the second quarter, compared to a loss of 237,000 in the first quarter of the year and a loss of 846,000 in the second quarter of 2003. The decline reflects a decrease of 753,000 members in trial and retention programs, offset by an 85,000 increase in billed subscribers. The company raised prior guidance for companywide adjusted oibda -- that is, oibda excluding impairments of goodwill and intangible assets and gains and losses from asset disposals. Adjusted oibda will grow in the low-double-digits to low-teens range off a 2003 base of $8.7 billion, Time Warner now says. Previously, the company had said adjusted oibda would grow in the low double digits in 2004 off a 2003 base of $8.8 billion. Adjusted oibda at AOL, Time Warner says, will be in the low-to mid-teens range, up from the company's prior forecast in the low double digits. Full-year growth in adjusted oibda, says Time Warner, will be higher than the corresponding 2003 rates at each of its reporting segments, except in filmed entertainment. In its guidance, which excludes one-time costs of M&A and restructuring charges, Time Warner says it expects to convert between 30% to 40% of its 2004 adjusted oibda into free cash flow, or oibda after capital expenditures, product development costs and other items have been subtracted out. Time Warner says it expects AOL will generate around $1 billion in free cash flow in 2004. The company indicated that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department have yet to resolve their investigations of onetime revenue recognition practices and other issues at America Online. Time Warner added that, stemming from the SEC investigation, the company has begun a review of accounting related to its interest in AOL Europe prior to January 2002. Time Warner's shares, which have ranged from $14.66 to $19.30 over the past year, rose 8 cents Wednesday morning to trade at $16.99.