Updated from 7:30 a.m. EchoStar ( DISH) missed fourth-quarter estimates Wednesday, but the stock rose 1%. The Englewood, Colo., satellite TV company made $133 million, or 28 cents a diluted share, up from the year-ago $70 million, or 15 cents a share. Revenue rose to $2.18 billion from $1.93 billion a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for a 35-cent profit on revenue of $2.19 billion. Dish Network added 330,000 net new subscribers during the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2005, giving the company 12.04 million subscribers as of that date, an increase of 1.135 million over the last year. Monthly subscriber churn for the year ended Dec. 31 inched up to 1.65% from 1.62% a year earlier. Prudential's Katherine Styponias put out a note Wednesday morning saying EchoStar's tax rate hit the bottom line. "Diluted EPS was 29 cents for the quarter, lower than our estimate of 34 cents and Street consensus of 35 cents," said Styponias, who rates the stock overweight and has a $35 price target. "However, we attribute the lower EPS results primarily to a higher effective tax rate than we had anticipated. Pretax profit was actually $4 million higher than our estimate." Monthly subscriber churn was in line with Prudential estimates at 1.59%, but subscriber net adds missed the analyst's mark by 22,000. The company said in a 10-K filing Wednesday morning that it modified and extended its distribution and sales agency agreement with AT&T ( T) during the fourth quarter. The company said it believes overall economic return will be similar under both arrangements. The news comes as EchoStar investors
eagerly await indications that CEO Charlie Ergen is moving the company in a new strategic direction. EchoStar shares have been flat for five years after a period of strong performance in the 1990s, and now competition is only rising in the communications business, with big cable and telco operators jockeying to offer consumers the so-called triple play of voice, data and television service under one roof. EchoStar said in its annual report Wednesday that it is encountering some headwinds on that front. "While we expect to continue to pursue opportunities to bundle our Dish Network satellite television service with the voice and data services of AT&T and other telecommunications providers, AT&T has begun deployment of fiber-optic networks that will allow it to offer video services directly to millions of homes as early as the second half of 2006," EchoStar said. "Other telecommunications companies have announced similar plans. While it is possible that the fourth-quarter 2005 revision to our AT&T agreement may drive increased subscriber growth, our net new subscriber additions and certain of our other key operating metrics could continue to be adversely affected to the extent AT&T further de-emphasizes, or discontinues altogether, its efforts to acquire Dish Network subscribers, and as a result of competition from video services offered by AT&T or other telecommunications companies. Moreover, there can be no assurance that we will be successful in developing significant new bundling opportunities with other telecommunications companies," the company said. Early Wednesday, EchoStar rose 27 cents to $29.62.