Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

posted a fourth-quarter loss Thursday as charges from the company's

huge employee buyout weighed down results. But another strong quarter on the wireless side put operating numbers in line with Wall Street's expectations.

For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, the big New York telco posted a loss of $1.46 billion, or 53 cents a share, after the effect of $3.1 billion in buyout-related charges. Before the charges, latest-quarter earnings were $1.6 billion, or 58 cents a share, 2 cents ahead of the analyst consensus provided by Thomson First Call. A year ago Verizon earned $2.29 billion, or 83 cents a share.

Revenue inched up to $17.28 billion from the year-ago $17.15 billion, putting that figure in line with the Wall Street analyst consensus estimate. Once again, revenue gains were led by the company's market-leading Verizon Wireless joint venture, where wireless service revenue rose 13.9% from a year earlier to $5.4 billion and total Verizon Wireless revenue, including equipment and other revenue, rose 14.6% to $6 billion.

"We are winning customers in markets new to Verizon, such as nationwide long-distance and sophisticated data services to large businesses," said CEO Ivan Seidenberg. "In wireless, we are widening our industry lead. In broadband, we have aggressively added customers in DSL while setting a stake in the ground for new growth in 2004. Verizon has a unique leadership role to play in the new broadband and wireless era of communications."

Verizon Wireless added nearly 1.5 million net subscribers in the fourth quarter and 5 million net subscribers for the year, the highest quarterly and annual net adds in the company's history. Customers totaled 37.5 million at year-end, up 15.5% over year-end 2002. Churn, or the number of customers defecting each month, fell to what the company called a record low of 1.7%. Verizon's

strength in wireless has been an increasingly important theme in the industry as growth slows for the lagging players.

Verizon added a net of 736,000 long-distance lines in the fourth quarter 2003. Verizon ended the year with more than 16.6 million long-distance lines, up 33%. Verizon also added a net of 203,000 DSL lines in the fourth quarter 2003, the company's largest quarterly gain in DSL lines in two years. The company has been seeking to expand its long-distance and Internet offerings as its core local phone business continues to shrink.

Verizon continued to cut debt, saying total debt fell 14.8% in 2003 to $45.4 billion. Free cash flow was $6.4 billion in 2003, compared with $4.8 billion in 2002.

Verizon closed Wednesday at $36.76.