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The Globe and Mail

Comcast profit beats Street on subscriber gains

This Feb. 13, 2012 photo, shows Comcast service vehicles parked at a Comcast facility in Pittsburgh.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

Comcast Corp. posted a better-than-expected rise in quarterly profit driven by strong video and Internet subscriber additions, though it was tempered by weak performances at its NBC Universal broadcast and movie units.

Shares were up more than 7 per cent in premarket trading on Wednesday as the company also announced a 44 per cent increase in its quarterly dividend and a new $6.5-billion (U.S.) share buyback.

The leading U.S. cable TV provider added 336,000 Internet subscribers and lost just 17,000 video customers -- its best quarterly video numbers in five years.

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Analysts at Collins Stewart had expected Comcast to add 242,000 Internet subscribers and lose as many as 140,000 video subscribers.

Comcast added 146,000 phone customers, below Collins Stewart's forecast of 170,000 additions.

"I thought these were pretty strong results," said Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan. "They could possibly grow video subscribers in the current quarter. We think this reflects better overall execution across the cable business."

Comcast, which controls NBC Universal, said strong cash flow growth at its cable networks was offset by a weaker performance at the NBC broadcast business and its Universal studio.

Cable networks, including USA, Bravo and E!, saw operating cash flow jump 16.2 per cent to $930-million, but NBC cash flow turned negative at $52-million. Universal's operating cash flow nearly halved to $91-million. The theme park business posted flat operating cash flow performance at $191-million.

Fourth-quarter net income rose to $1.29-billion, or 47 cents a share from $1.02-billion, or 36 cents a share, a year before.

Analysts had on average forecast profit of 41 cents per share, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

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Revenue rose 3 per cent to $15-billion.

Comcast raised its dividend by 44 per cent to $0.1625 a quarter, or $0.65 cents a year, and announced a new share buyback program of $6.5-billion, with a pledge to spend $3-billion in 2012.

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