UPDATE 2-Bell Canada parent profit rises on strong wireless unit

Thu Feb 7, 2013 11:57am EST

* Adj earnings C$0.65/shr vs C$0.62/shr year earlier

* Net wireless postpaid subscribers rise by 143,834

* BCE sees revenue growth slowing in 2013 to 2 pct at most

* Raises dividend 2.6 pct

By Allison Martell and Alastair Sharp

TORONTO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - BCE Inc, parent of Bell Canada and the country's biggest telecom provider, reported higher quarterly profit and raised its dividend on Thursday as its wireless and media divisions boosted the bottom line.

But the company, which together with Rogers Communications Inc and Telus Corp dominates the Canadian market, said it expected revenue to grow by 2 percent at the most this year, compared with 3 percent growth in 2012. It said it sees earnings for 2013 rising slightly.

For the final quarter of 2012, profit was in line with expectations as strong performances in wireless and media more than offset Bell Canada's weaker wireline business.

BCE's shares were little changed on Thursday morning, slipping 0.02 percent at C$44.51 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose described the wireless results as very strong and said they indicate that Bell is taking market share from Rogers.

Apple Inc's iPhone and smartphones running Google Inc's Android operating system sold well through the holiday shopping season, BCE said.

Net postpaid subscribers rose by nearly 144,000, 9 percent more than the net gains in the same quarter last year. Postpaid subscriber figures are watched closely because those customers, who often sign multiyear contracts, typically pay more each month than prepaid subscribers.

Churn, the average proportion of subscribers that cancel their service each month, improved to 1.3 percent for postpaid customers, from 1.5 percent a year earlier. Average revenue per user, or ARPU, rose 4.1 percent to C$56.72 a month.

"We accomplished a lot in 2012," Chief Executive George Cope said at the company's investor day in Toronto. "We believe this year we will lead the industry in postpaid net adds, wireless ARPU growth and EBITDA when all the numbers are in for the year."

MEDIA EARNINGS SOAR

In the smaller media division, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization jumped 32.3 percent, helped in part by higher revenue from subscriber fees.

The company said the National Hockey League's player lockout, which shut down Canada's favorite professional league for months, was the biggest factor behind a 6.5 percent drop in the division's operating costs.

Advertising revenue slipped only 1 percent as marketing dollars shifted to BCE's non-sports channels.

The company said it may update its financial outlook in the event that its proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc closes.

BCE is still waiting for regulators to rule on its C$3 billion bid for Astral, its biggest content provider. Broadcast regulators blocked the deal in the fall, but the companies filed a revised application in November.

BY THE NUMBERS

Fourth-quarter net earnings rose to C$708 million ($710 million), or 91 Canadian cents a share, from C$486 million, or 62 Canadian cents, a year earlier.

The bottom line benefited from a C$248 million noncash gain related to a joint venture with Rogers to bring wireless broadband to remote communities and rural areas.

Excluding that gain and other items, adjusted earnings rose to 65 Canadian cents a share, from 62 Canadian cents a year earlier. Analysts, on average, had expected earnings of 66 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

For 2013, BCE expects adjusted earnings per share of from C$2.97 to C$3.03. Restated to reflect a new pension accounting standard, adjusted earnings in 2012 were C$2.96 a share.

BCE's operating revenue dipped to C$5.16 billion from C$5.17 billion a year earlier. Analysts had expected C$5.17 billion.

The company raised its quarterly dividend 2.6 percent to C$0.5825 a share, over and above a 4.6 percent increase announced in August.

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