Tax cuts overshadowed the impact of cord cutting in Comcast's (CMCSA) fourth-quarter report on Wednesday.
"The recent passage of tax reform provides real and immediate benefits for our company that will further enhance our financial position," Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told investors in an earnings call. Comcast earned 49 cents per share in the quarter, two cents above Wall Street forecasts, while Revenues of $21.9 billion slightly exceeded forecasts of $21.8 billion. Shares of Comcast dropped nearly 0.5% to $42.27 on Wednesday, after initially rising.
Comcast declined to put a dollar figure on its tax windfall, however, a day after Verizon (VZ) said it would save $3.5 billion to $4 billion.
Roberts said the savings and Comcast's "solid foundation" would allow the Philadelphia cable operator to boost its dividend by 21% to 76 cents per share. Comcast will also repurchase at least $5 billion in stock in 2018. Comcast previously said it would give $1,000 bonuses to employees and invest $50 billion over the next five years.
Comcast's spending plans are not exactly extravagant, however. The buybacks and the annual rate of Comcast's proposed capex spending are in-line with their levels in 2017. The employee bonuses only account for about $170 million and the dividend payouts come to roughly $600 million for the year, Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar noted in a report. Those are hardly large sums for Comcast, which has a nearly $200 billion market cap and $89.5 billion in projected 2018 revenue according to FactSet. "This could indicate potentially greater interest in exploring strategic options or more aggressive investments in areas such as wireless," Venkateshwar suggested.
Roberts acknowledged the possibility of deals as media companies seek scale.
Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) has reportedly attracted suitors, following Disney's (DIS) plan to buy most of Fox's (FOXA) operations for $66.1 billion, including debt, in December. AT&T's (T) purchase of Time Warner (TWX) for $85.4 billion, or $108.7 billion including debt, is currently hung up by a Department of Justice lawsuit.
"[A]long the way there may be opportunities for us to create more value for our shareholders like we did with NBCUniversal," he said, referring to the 2011 purchase of a controlling stake in the entertainment company from General Electric (GE) .
However, Roberts qualified the remarks later in the call. "There is nothing we think we need to buy," he said, noting that "the bar is high" in terms of criteria that Comcast applies to deals.
Meanwhile, the largest U.S. cable operator lost fewer customers to cord cutting than expected. Comcast reported a drop of 34,00 video subscribers, below forecasts of 45,000 to 52,000. And the company added 350,000 broadband subscribers, which exceeded forecasts of 312,000 and helps to offset the video losses.
As the broadband business matures and slows, Comcast hopes that its nascent mobile business and smart home services will provide grow.
The Xfinity Mobile business, which resells Verizon's wireless service and launched in May, reported more than 380,000 subscribers at the end of the year. The company had 250,000 mobile users at the end of the third quarter.
Roberts pointed to the proliferation of smart devices on display the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that will require a broadband connection. "Everything at CES [was] all about what's going to happen to the home of the future the next three years, five years, ten years," he said. "It's hard to know exactly when any of those items will explode."
Comcast's Universal film studio's annual global box office exceeded $5 billion for the second time in the studio's history, though revenue was down in the fourth quarter. Films included the latest titles from the 50 Shades of Grey, Fast & Furious and Despicable Me franchises, as well as Jordan Peele's Academy Award-nominated Get Out. The 2018 slate includes films from the Jurassic World and and Fifty Shades of Grey franchises.
The company also touted NBC's line up for 2018. The network carry Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis on February 4, and the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang start on Feb. 9.
"[I]f you're a big advertiser and you want to launch big brands and really make a material change in the way consumers think about you, you have to be in the big events on TV," NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said. "And we have something like two-thirds of all the big nights on broadcast television in the next 12 months."
However, Burke acknowledged trends that are driving advertising dollars away from traditional cable and television groups. "In terms of advertising, it's impossible not to see the strength, particularly of Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOGL) , really the dominance of Facebook and Google, in terms of digital advertising," Burke said.
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