BUSINESS

Rogers May Buy Astral Assets In 'Selective' Process

10/24/2012 04:10 EDT | Updated 12/24/2012 05:12 EST
CP
Telecom company Rogers Communications Inc. could take a look at "selective" assets of Astral Media if the specialty and radio company puts up a "For Sale" again after its sale to a major Rogers rival was rejected.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently nixed a $3.4-billion takeover deal by Bell Media (TSX:BCE) for Astral Media, saying it wasn't in the best interests of Canadians.

Bell has asked federal cabinet to tell the CRTC to properly apply its own rules and let the transaction go ahead, but Ottawa has suggested it has little appetite to do so.

"Obviously, we know the Astral assets very well," Rogers' executive Keith Pelley said Wednesday after Rogers reported third-quarter results that beat analysts estimates.

"If they strategically fit, I think that is also important. So they need to be selective and strategic, then at that particular time we would evaluate them," Keith Pelley, president of Roger's media division, told reporters on a conference call.

Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) told CRTC hearings that it wouldn't support Bell's deal to buy Astral unless it divested specialty English TV assets such as The Movie Network and HBO Canada. At that time, Rogers would only say it might be interested in those assets.

But Pelly said Rogers has a number of other issues to focus on for now.

Rogers is honing in on a trend that's been driving growth for the telecom company — consumers buying smartphones that are usually on lucrative three-year contracts and use data to stream video and send emails, which adds revenues for Rogers.

Toronto-based Rogers added 76,000 net postpaid customers who bought iPhones, BlackBerrys or Android smartphones in its third quarter versus 74,000 in the same quarter in 2011, CEO Nadir Mohamed said.

"We're attracting and retaining our highest lifetime value customers, which is squarely on strategy and the most significant driver of our top line (revenue)," Mohamed told financial analysts earlier in the day.

The percentage of postpaid subscribers using smartphones rose to 65 per cent, up from 52 per cent in the same quarter last year for Rogers, which is Canada's biggest wireless provider.

Still, Rogers net income was down five per cent to $466 million or 90 cents per share versus $497 million or 92 cents per share in the same quarter last year.

Adjusted net income, however, was $495 million or 96 cents per share, up from $489 million or 90 cents per share.

Rogers said the difference between adjusted net profit and net profit was due to increased stock-based compensation, a small increase in depreciation and amortization in infrastructure and a slight increase in taxes.

Revenue increased to $3.17 billion, up about one per cent from the same time last year, and was largely in line with analyst estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters, while adjusted earnings were seven cents per share higher than anticipated.

Average monthly revenue per user for postpaid customers dropped to $71.50 from $72.08 in the same period in 2011, Rogers said.

Wireless data revenue grew by 18 per cent and now comprises 41 per cent of the wireless division's revenue, compared with 36 per cent in the same quarter last year.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Drew McReynolds said Rogers' results were "better than expected."

McReynolds said revenue exceeded his estimate of $3.165 billion and adjusted EPS of 96 cents was higher than his estimate of 86 cents.

He noted that there's continuing improvement in Rogers' wireless division. Even though average revenue per user for postpaid subscribers declined in the quarter, it represents a "solid improvement" over past quarters, McReynolds said in a research note.

Rogers' total cable TV subscribers were just more than 2.2 million, down from 2.3 million.

Bruce said Rogers lost customers in the quarter due Bell's Internet Protocol television service and its promotions.

But Bruce also said some customers gave up their cable TV in favour of their Internet subscription.

"To be fair, cord shaving is fairly minimal at this point," Bruce said.

"If you're under 45, you're really making the decision on the strength of the Internet."

Rogers total high-speed Internet customers in the quarter were 1.8 million, up from 1.7 million in the same period last year.

Shares in Rogers were up $1.37, or 3.3 per cent, to $42.45 in afternoon trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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