While filing results that analysts found acceptable or just slightly off, the cable operators failed to impress investors with their Monday morning numbers. The news came on a day when share prices dropped across the board, particularly among the tech stocks that had enjoyed a strong start to the year.
At Cablevision, strong operational results were shadowed by concerns over the company's high-definition television satellite venture. And at Charter, results that had been pretty much telegraphed a month ago failed to persuade Wall Street that prospects were improving.
On Monday, Charter's shares fell 19 cents, or 5%, to $3.67, while Cablevision's shares dropped 69 cents, or more than 3%, to $20.93.
At Charter, the disappointment arrived even though the St. Louis company met or beat expectations that it issued in early April, soon after the quarter in question had actually closed.
Perhaps complicating the matter on Wall Street is the moving target set by Charter's divestiture of a quarter-million basic cable subscribers in asset sales intended to shore up the balance sheet. Charter's month-old guidance takes into account these divestitures -- which also happen to drop Charter's ranking among the nation's largest operators of cable TV systems. But it's unclear whether the Thomson First Call numbers -- against which investors might be judging Charter -- are taking the asset sales into account as well.
Charter's reported revenue of $1.21 billion indeed came up short against the First Call revenue consensus of $1.23 billion. But pro forma revenue growth of 5% -- excluding systems sold in March and other times -- met Charter's forecast of revenue growth "approaching 5%."
Other pro forma stats matched or beat as well, with residential high-speed data customers and digital video customers coming in ahead of the ranges of Charter's estimated gains. After forecasting the loss of 10,000 to 15,000 basic subscribers in the quarter, Charter lost 8,500; capital expenditures came in at $190 million, at the higher end of the $175 million to $200 million range.
Adjusted operating cash flow -- the company's preferred cash-flow measure -- missed the First Call consensus, though the degree of the miss depends on how one measures it. The cash flow number came in at $463 million on an actual basis and $450 million on a pro forma basis. The First Call figure target was $470 million.
Though Charter's exact ranking among cable TV operators on the basis of size is financially inconsequential, the company's status as a seller of cable systems rather than a buyer has officially had an effect this quarter.
Judged, as cable operators are, on the number of basic video subscribers they have, Charter -- up until Dec. 31 the third-largest operator of cable TV systems in the U.S. -- is now the fourth, having traded places with
. Charter, which reported 6.43 million basic subscribers at the end of December, had 6.19 million at the end of March. Cox, which had 6.34 million at the end of December, grew to 6.37 million over the next three months.
remains the nation's largest operator, and
is in second place.
Cablevision, the sixth-largest operator (behind the bankrupt fifth-place operator,
), proved to have a good quarter operating its cable systems, but disappointed elsewhere.
Digital video customer additions, broadband growth and voice over Internet protocol telephony beat expectations of, for example, Oppenheimer analyst Thomas Eagan. Revenue of $1.19 billion beat the First Call estimate of $1.13 billion.
But adjusted operating cash flow of $267.8 million fell short of the $301 million consensus, thanks to a $45 million operating cash flow loss at Voom, the company's fledgling HDTV satellite service, and a $19.8 million adjusted operating cash flow loss at Cablevision's Madison Square Garden, blamed on higher player compensation and lower live event revenue.
Cablevision, which hopes to spin off Voom and other programming services later this year, has already quantified what it says is the cap on its investment in the Voom start-up. But questions on the call indicated that analysts aren't 100% reassured that no further bills to Cablevision will come due.