(Adds comments from new CEO)
By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The new chief executive of Rogers Communications Inc promised to do better after Canada’s largest wireless telephone company blamed regulator-mandated and competition-induced changes to its wireless pricing for a surprise hit to revenue and profit.
But Guy Laurence, who joined from Vodafone Group Plc’s UK unit, gave little away about how he intends to fix a weaker outlook for the company, which is also a major cable-TV provider and owner or part-owner of most of Toronto’s major sport franchises.
Shares in Rogers fell more than 5 percent to a five-month low after the release of the disappointing results on Wednesday, which also pointed to more tough times ahead.
“I’d like to see better execution on the wireless front. On cable, I wouldn’t say they are doing horribly, but they could improve,” said Dave Heger, an analyst at Edward Jones.
Heger recommends buying Rogers stock based on a heavily discounted price relative to its potential if it runs its businesses more effectively.
“Guy Laurence has his work cut out for him to reinvigorate the business,” he said.
The company’s ability to command a premium price for its Internet, television and telephone services has suffered in recent quarters as rivals match its technical prowess and offer heavy promotions to win market share.
Laurence told reporters he is halfway through a corporate review and will present a plan to the board in May.
He ducked questions about a possible wireless price war to protect market share, or whether Rogers sought deals with the likes of Netflix Inc, which is blamed for luring away traditional television viewers with online streaming video.
Toronto-based Rogers added 34,000 net postpaid wireless subscribers in the fourth quarter, far fewer than expected and down from 58,000 a year earlier.
Postpaid customers sign multi-year contracts and typically pay much more each month than prepaid subscribers, and are therefore highly coveted by telecom executives.
By comparison, rival BCE Inc’s Bell Canada unit said last week that it added almost 120,000 contract wireless customers in the fourth quarter.
The monthly bill of an average Rogers wireless customer, a blend of pre- and postpaid users, was little changed from the previous quarter at C$58.59.
Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose said both Rogers’ operational and financial results missed analysts’ estimates across the board and that Rogers deserves the valuation discount it is getting relative to its main competitors, BCE Inc and Telus Corp. Telus is due to report quarterly results on Thursday.
Rogers said it was hurt by changes to its wireless pricing strategy that were forced by the introduction of a federal wireless code which, among other changes, shortened the maximum length of a phone contract to two years from three.
The company’s media unit also notched a slip in profit as it shouldered the cost of broadcasting more National Hockey League games. Rogers signed a C$5.2 billion ($4.7 billion) 12-year deal in November to broadcast the games, Canada’s most popular spectator sport.
That deal was a major victory over BCE as each has raced in recent years to buy content to distribute on smartphones, tablets, computer screens and televisions.
Rogers lost 28,000 cable TV subscribers in the fourth quarter, and that was a bright spot as investors had expected it to lose more. The company added 13,000 Internet customers.
CEO Laurence provided little concrete guidance on his first earnings conference call with investors.
Excluding one-off costs, earnings fell to C$357 million ($323 million), or 69 Canadian cents a share, in the quarter from C$448 million, or 86 Canadian cents, a year earlier.
Analysts, on average, had forecast a profit of 74.5 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company said it will increase its annual dividend by 5 percent, while analysts had hoped for something closer to 10 percent. It said it expects adjusted earnings to be flat in 2014 as capital expenditures temporarily flare to account for ongoing bidding on 700 megahertz spectrum licenses in a government auction, which will be a major expense.
Net income at Rogers, which also owns television stations, magazines and the Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball team, fell to C$320 million from C$522 million. Operating revenue was down 1 percent at C$3.24 billion.
Rogers expects adjusted operating profit to rise to between C$5 billion and C$5.15 billion in fiscal 2014, with growth in the wireless unit of between 1 and 5 percent. The company’s adjusted profit in 2013 was C$4.99 billion.
Its shares closed down 5.3 percent at C$43.28 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, their sharpest one-day fall since June and lowest close since September.
$1=$1.10 Canadian Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Peter Galloway and Phil Berlowitz