UPDATE, 8:05 AM: The stock is down more than 13% in early trading, with the decline accelerating after the company’s conference call with analysts. CEO Jim Dolan acknowledged that “not all of our results in the quarter are where we want” — which he says is due in part to the decline in housing growth. But COO Tom Rutledge also said that programming is “the single biggest cost item that we have,” and the company is grappling with new retransmission consent payments to TV stations. “We’re absorbing the collapse of the broadcast industry business model,” he says. For now, the company is waiting to see whether the FCC will do something to help tame those rising costs. It’s also promoting a higher-priced video-phone-broadband package that features faster-than-average Internet speeds.
Analysts for the most part see the 3Q results as a mixed bag — with lower earnings than they envisioned but also lower-than-expected subscriber losses. What’s unclear, though, is how much Cablevision benefited from a six-week strike at Verizon that pretty much stopped new FiOS installations. “Cablevision had it easy,” Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett says. “With one ball and one strike, the at-bat could go either way,” he adds. “To us, the risks don’t look worth taking.”
PREVIOUS, 5:44 AM: The year-over-year numbers are hard to compare due to Cablevision’s acquisition of the Bresnan cable properties late last year. Still, they look ugly. Cablevision reported net income of $39.6M, down 64.9% vs last year’s 3Q, on revenues of $1.67B, up 8%. Earnings came in at 14 cents a share, far lower than the 32 cents that the Street expected. Cablevision blames Hurricane Irene for some of the shortfall; the company had $16M of costs related to the storm. If you factor that out, as well as the Bresnan acquisition, then revenues would have increased 0.4% and operating income — down 11.7% in the official results — would have just dropped 4%, Cablevision says. Investors will be especially concerned about the cable TV results following Time Warner Cable’s disappointing report yesterday showing a drop in subscriptions: Cablevision lost 19,000 video customers in 3Q, ending with 3.63M. Factoring out the Bresnan deal, revenues for the video unit just increased 0.5% vs last year while operating income fell 5.5% — which Cablevision says was due to “higher programming and sales and marketing costs.” CEO Jim Dolan says that Cablevision is “operating in a challenging environment” but is “building our business for the long-term.” Meanwhile it’s giving shareholders — led by the Dolan family — more tangible rewards: The company spent $93.9M in 3Q repurchasing its stock, and just declared a 15 cents a share quarterly dividend. As a footnote, the company’s “other” category — which includes Newsday and Clearview Cinemas — had an operating loss of $61.1M, a 3% improvement from last year, on revenues of $109.0M, down 5.5%.