Shaw profit beats Q4 estimates, revenue slightly short of analyst expectations

CALGARY – Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) is focusing on growing its wireless Internet offerings while continuing to deal with declining cable and satellite TV subscriptions.

CEO Brad Shaw said the company will continue to remain flexible in providing customers what they want, when they want it — whether that be Wi-Fi, telephone or television services.

“We are focused on strengthening our strategy of being the leading content and network company,” Shaw told analysts during a conference call following the company’s latest earnings release.

“We remain committed to providing our subscribers with greater choice and flexibility over what they watch, how they watch and when they watch their favourite content.”

Shaw reported a 64 per cent boost in profits in the fourth quarter, helped by lower amortization and interest expenses and overall improvement in costs.

Earnings were $192 million or 40 cents per share in the three-month period ended Aug. 31, up from $117 million or 24 cents per share a year earlier and better than estimates of 37 cents per share.

Shaw’s revenue rose by 1.4 per cent to $1.26 billion, slightly below estimates of $1.27 billion, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.

Despite the solid earnings, the company reported a drop in subscriptions, particularly among cable and satellite TV subscribers who chose to cut the cord in favour of alternatives like watching television over the Internet.

At the end of August, the company saw a net loss of 20,166 cable subscribers, reducing its overall total to 1.96 million, while net direct-to-home satellite customers fell 6,606 to 880,623.

Meanwhile, Shaw said the number of people taking its Internet services climb by nearly 12,000 to total 1.93 million. Digital phone line subscribers also rose 1,114 to 1.37 million.

“We will see some more stability over time,” chief operating officer Jay Mehr said of the decline in subscribers. “I think were in the competitive part of the business cycle in Eastern Canada. . . . “

Shaw said free cash flow — an important gauge for telecom companies that measures discretionary cash after current debt obligations — jumped to $143 million in the period from $61 million a year before.

The company said the improved free cash flow was due to increased operating income before restructuring costs and amortization, lower capital investment and less interest expense. Those positives were partially offset by higher cash taxes.

Shaw’s cable division provided $837 million of revenue in the quarter, satellite generated $220 million and the media division that includes Global Television and specialty TV channels provided $231 million over the summer quarter.

RBC Dominion analyst Drew McReynolds said the cable division financial results were below expectations but Shaw’s subscriber results were in line. Conversely, the satellite financial results were better than anticipated but subscriber results missed expectations.

McReynolds also said that Shaw’s preliminary guidance for the 2015 financial year that began Sept. 1 was slightly below expectations.

Shares in Shaw gained five cents to close at $27.75 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday.