BCE profit climbs on strength in wireless, media

Wed Aug 8, 2012 1:26pm EDT
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(Reuters) - BCE, Canada's largest telecom player, reported stronger than expected earnings and an early dividend increase on Wednesday on strong wireless results and rising profits from its fast-expanding media empire.

Montreal-based BCE, the parent of Bell Canada and Canadian Olympic broadcaster CTV, said greater smartphone adoption helped boost profits from its wireless unit, while higher rates paid by broadcast distributors and lower costs lifted profits in its media division.

It raised its forecast for full-year profits and boosted its annual dividend to C$2.27 a share from C$2.17 a share.

"The company surprised by announcing an increase to its annual dividend," National Bank Financial analyst Adam Shine in said a note to clients. "This was earlier than our expectations which called for an increase in December."

BCE stock rose 2.8 percent to C$44.46 by early afternoon.

BCE, which last year acquired CTV, Canada's biggest private broadcaster, for C$1.3 billion ($1.3 billion), has stayed on the domestic acquisition trail with a deal to buy out content provider Astral Media Inc ACMa.TO for C$3 billion.

BCE and rival Rogers Communications (RCIb.TO: Quote) are also part of a consortium that is buying Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan's 79.5 percent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owners of sporting assets that include the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

This rapid expansion has raised the ire of some rivals. On Tuesday, three cable companies jointly urged Canadian regulators to block BCE's planned takeover of Astral, arguing that the deal would hurt competition and boost fees.

BCE said it expects the Astral deal, to close in the fourth quarter of 2012, subject to regulatory approvals. The acquisition will win it control of more than 20 television services and some 80 radio stations. It sees the Maple Leaf Sports transaction closing in the current quarter.   Continued...