Showing off financial strength, Comcast said it plans to
purchase the 49% stake in NBCUniversal still owned by General Electric for
$16.7 billion. Comcast is also buying from GE property at 30 Rockefeller Plaza
used by NBCU and property in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., used by CNBC for $1.4
Comcast had been scheduled to buy the NBCU stake from GE on July 14. The company said the accelerated
purchase "solidifies Comcast's position as a leading media and technology
It also plans to boost its dividend in the first quarter by
20% to 78 cents a share and buy back $2 billion of its share in 2013,
moves designed to curry favor on Wall Street.
"Our decision to acquire GE's ownership is driven by
our sense of optimism for the future prospects of NBCUniversal and our desire
to capture future value that we hope to create for our shareholders,"
Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO, Comcast Corp., said in a statement. "We
believe the terms of the transaction are attractive and have planned for this
event by taking a number of financial steps to prepare our balance sheet. We
believe we are in a strong and unique position to continue to grow and build
value in our combined company."
Comcast's early purchase of the balance of NBCU will not require any further government review since the FCC has already approved Comcast as owner of NBCU and the deal involves no further change of control.
When DOJ found no antitrust issues and the FCC approved the deal on public interest grounds -- with various conditions -- both did so on the expectation that Comcast would ultimately own all of the company.
"We evaluate this transaction as if Comcast will obtain all the profits generated by any exclusionary strategy by Comcast-NBCUniversal because Comcast is acquiring the right to acquire sole ownership from GE and may exercise that right without further Commission approval," the FCC said at the time. DOJ's impact statement said it did so "expect[ing] Comcast ultimately will own 100 percent of the [joint venture]."
Comcast said fourth quarter earnings per share rose 18% to
$1.5 billion, or 56 cents a share, from $1.3 billion, or 47 cents a share, a
year ago. Adjusting for a favorable tax adjustment, earnings per share rose 10.6%.
Revenue rose 5.9% to $15.9 billion.
In the fourth quarter, NBCU's cash flow rose 11.4% to $1.2
billion, driven by strong results at broadcast television, the company said.
Cash flow at NBC's cable networks was down 3.5% to $890
million as revenues rose 0.6% to $2.2 billion. Programming and production
costs were up as the company invested in original programming.
Distribution revenue was up 2.5% and negatively impacted by
the NHL lockout. Advertising revenues were down 1.5%, reflecting lower ratings,
but higher pricing.
For the broadcast television division, cash flow was $95
million, compared to a negative $80 million a year ago. Broadcast TV revenues
were $1.8 billion, up 7.9%. Programming and production costs were down slightly
while higher ratings at NBC and an increase in political advertising at the
local stations boosted revenue.
At Comcast Cable Communications unit, cash flow rose 6.7% to
$4.2 billion. Revenues rose 7% to $10.1 billion.
The company said the increases were driven by growth in the
high speed Internet business, business service and video.
Advertising revenue was up 19.4% due to higher political
Additional reporting by John Eggerton.