August 8, 2012 / 1:12 PM / 5 years ago

BCE profit climbs on strength in wireless business

(Reuters) - BCE Inc BCE.TO on Wednesday reported a second-quarter profit that topped analysts’ expectations, as strong results from its wireless and media arms spurred Canada’s largest telecom player also to lift its full-year earnings outlook and dividend payout.

Montreal-based BCE, the parent of Bell Canada, said greater smartphone adoption helped boost profits from its wireless unit, while higher subscriber fee revenue lifted profits from its fast-expanding media empire.

BCE, which last year acquired CTV -- Canada’s biggest private broadcaster -- for C$1.3 billion ($1.3 billion), is attempting to buy out Astral Media Inc ACMa.TO, one of its largest content providers.

BCE and rival Rogers Communications RCIb.TO are also part of a consortium that is buying Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s 79.5 percent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns a prized collection of some of the most valuable sports assets in Canada’s largest city, Toronto.

The rapid expansion of BCE’s media empire has raised the ire of some rivals. On Tuesday, three cable companies banded together to call on Canadian regulators to block BCE’s planned C$3 billion takeover of Astral, arguing the deal would hurt competition and lead to higher fees.

Despite the objections, BCE indicated that it expects the Astral deal, which will give it control of more than 20 television services and some 80 radio stations, to close in the fourth quarter of 2012, subject to regulatory approvals. BCE sees the MLSE transaction closing in the current quarter.

STRONG QUARTER

BCE said its net income in the period rose to C$773 million, or C$1.00 a share, compared with C$590 million, or 76 Canadian cents, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items related to severance, acquisition and other costs, earnings in the quarter rose to C$788 million, or C$1.02 a share. That compared with earnings of C$663 million, or 86 Canadian cents.

Analysts, on average, had forecast earnings of 81 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

“Bell’s strong year-to-date operating and financial performance, and the positive outlook for the balance of the year, enables the dividend increase and increased 2012 financial guidance,” Chief Executive George Cope said in a release. “Also providing support for the early dividend increase is our pending acquisition of Astral.”

The company, which expects the Astral deal to boost its earnings and free cash flow in 2013, raised its annual dividend payout to C$2.27 a share from C$2.17 a share.

BCE said it expects adjusted earnings in the year of between C$3.15 a share and C$3.20 a share, slightly higher than its previously forecast range of C$3.13 to C$3.18. Analysts expect earnings of C$3.16 a share.

Reporting by Euan Rocha and Allison Martell; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Dale Hudson

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