UPDATED with stock price decline. AT&T reported fourth-quarter earnings below Wall Street forecasts due to comparisons with the year-earlier period, which included a big boost from federal tax cuts.
Earnings per share in the quarter ending December 31 came in at 66 cents, down from an adjusted 78 cents in the year-ago quarter. AT&T said the profit figure reflected a downward adjustment of 20 cents due to items including the tax cut benefit and merger and integration costs related to the $81 billion Time Warner deal. With the 20 cents included, earnings met analysts’ expectation of 86 cents a share and increased 10% from a year ago.
Including an accounting charge, revenue of $48 billion missed analysts’ consensus estimate of $48.5 billion.
Shares in AT&T, which have posted modest gains in 2019 to date, sold off on the earnings news. They are down more than 4% in midday trading, at $29.33.
WarnerMedia results were strongest at Warner Bros., where film and TV licensing revenue paced the quarter. Overall revenue in the segment grew 6% to $9.2 billion. The parent company is reporting financials in the film and TV unit without full comparisons to the year-ago period, as the acquisition closed last June. The third quarter of 2019, from July through September, will be the first official quarter with comprehensive apples-to-apples WarnerMedia numbers.
Warner Bros. revenue totaled $4.5 billion, with $2.1 billion from theatrical film and $1.8 billion from television. Operating margins in the studio division were 18%. The company said robust box-office returns from Aquaman and A Star is Born contributed positive momentum.
HBO and Turner had more mixed results. HBO was hurt by an ongoing carriage dispute with Dish Network and Turner saw ratings declines in its U.S. cable networks, which were partly offset by higher pricing. Ad sales across Turner also dipped 6%.
HBO’s total revenue was flat at $1.7 billion, though operating income increased $138 million to $622 million. On a full-year basis, digital growth offset headwinds with Dish, however, pushing overall subscription revenue up 6%. Digital subscriptions fronted by HBO Now gained 37% in 2018 to reach more than 7 million subscribers, and digital is now 20% of the total subscription revenue pie.
Turner likewise moved sideways with $3.2 billion in revenue, but operating income rose $221 million to $1.3 billion.