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Comcast sees sharp drop in profits for third quarter

3 other firms with Utah links post favorable results

William Clayton puts the final touches on the new "On Demand" programming system now available through Comcast. Comcast announced quarterly earnings Wednesday.
William Clayton puts the final touches on the new "On Demand" programming system now available through Comcast. Comcast announced quarterly earnings Wednesday.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Several companies based in Utah or with ties to the state reported quarterly financial results Wednesday.

Comcast

Comcast Corp., the nation's biggest cable television company and the largest in Utah, reported a sharp decline in its profit for the third quarter from results a year ago that included a big gain on the sale of its interest in the home shopping network QVC Inc.

Nonetheless, Comcast said it had a record number of new high-speed Internet subscribers and strong growth in its digital cable division, helping boost revenue by 12.1 percent.

Comcast added 549,000 high-speed Internet subscribers — ending the quarter with more than 6.5 million — and 341,000 new digital cable subscribers.

The company said it expected to add about 1 million digital cable subscribers for the year, at the top end of the previous range, and about 100,000 more high-speed Internet subscribers than it had anticipated.

"We reached record levels of new video and high-speed Internet service additions this quarter, confirming that we have successfully transformed Comcast into a new products company," said Brian L. Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, the company earned $220 million, or 10 cents per share, down from $3.18 billion, or $1.41 a share, a year ago when it had a gain of nearly $3.3 billion on the sale of its 57 percent interest in QVC.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were looking for earnings of 11 cents per share for the latest quarter.

Revenues rose to $5.10 billion in the quarter from $4.55 billion a year ago.

Comcast had 21.5 million basic cable subscribers, unchanged from a year ago. The company, which had been losing basic subscribers, said it added 8,500 subscribers in the third quarter — despite losing 10,000 customers devastated by hurricanes in the Southeast.

Comcast said it could lose as many as 100,000 telephone subscribers this year, but it expects business to pick up as it switches from traditional circuit-switched phone service to Internet-based service, or VoIP. The phone business could be a "very significant growth engine in 2006 and beyond," Burke said.

The company is nearly finished upgrading its cable network. Capital expenditures were $871 million in the third quarter, down from $1.05 billion in the year-ago quarter.

For the first nine months of the year, Comcast earned $547 million, or 24 cents a share, versus $2.86 billion, or $1.27 a share, a year ago. Revenue rose to $15.07 billion from $13.61 billion a year ago.

Northrop Grumman

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp.'s third-quarter earnings rose 51 percent due to strength from its mission systems, integrated systems and ships and space technology segments.

The Los Angeles company, which has several hundred employees in Utah, said its third-quarter earnings increased to $278 million, or 76 cents a share, from $184 million, or 50 cents a share, in the third quarter a year earlier.

Income from continuing operations for the latest quarter was $291 million, or 80 cents a share, which beat analysts' average forecast of 77 cents a share. In the year-ago period, income from continuing operations was $200 million, or 54 cents a share.

Third-quarter sales increased 11 percent to $7.4 billion from $6.7 billion, topping Wall Street projections of $7.25 billion.

Northrop shares closed Wednesday at $51.75, up $1.04, or 2 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange.

Northrop reclassified its component-technologies business as a continuing operation, abandoning an effort to sell the unit and putting it back on the company's books after classifying the business as a discontinued operation in the third quarter of 2002.

Northrop, which is the world's largest shipbuilder and the second largest defense contractor in the United States, said its ships business continued to be a source of strength, with sales rising 14 percent. Information technology revenue rose 8 percent, while mission-systems sales rose 21 percent.

Pension expenses, which have troubled many U.S. manufacturers in recent years, declined to $87 million from $143 million last year.

The company also said it expects full-year 2004 sales in excess of $29 billion versus previous guidance of approximately $29 billion. Analysts, on average, expect Northrop Grumman to report sales of $29.24 billion in fiscal 2004. In fiscal 2003, the company had sales of $26.21 billion.

The company now expects 2004 per-share earnings from continuing operations of $2.95 to $3 vs. previous guidance of $2.90 to $3. Wall Street currently expects the company to earn $3 a share, before items, in fiscal 2004. In fiscal 2003, Northrop Grumman reported income from continuing operations of $2.16 a share on a post-split basis.

For 2005, Northrop expects sales of approximately $31 billion. Wall Street analysts currently expect sales of $31.35 billion.

Northrop's board of directors also approved a large buyback of Northrop stock. The repurchase is expected to be completed over the course of 12 to 18 months, beginning in November of this year.

Boeing

Burgeoning military sales lifted Boeing Co. to a 78 percent increase in third-quarter profits, its bottom line thriving despite the ethics scandals that have roiled the aerospace giant for the past year.

The results Wednesday handily surpassed Wall Street's expectations, and Boeing, which has several hundred employees in Utah, raised its estimate for full-year earnings.

The company's defense and space division accounted for most of the quarter's profits and nearly doubled the long-dominant commercial airplane unit in sales, accounting for 63 percent of total revenue.

Its Seattle-based airplane business also was modestly profitable despite an 8 percent decline in revenue. The company said it now anticipates delivering 12 percent more planes in 2005 than this year, citing a surge in global air traffic as encouraging.

Still, Standard and Poor's analyst Roman Szuper said that while Boeing's profits remain strong, "The main concern is ethical lapses in the defense and space operations that have endangered some key programs."

One such deal in jeopardy is the company's proposal to supply air refueling tankers to the U.S. military, with Congress formally scrapping the previously approved $23 billion deal three weeks ago.

But CEO Harry Stonecipher insisted he sees no threat from investigations that began this month after ex-Air Force contracting officer Darleen Druyun admitted inflating the price of the tankers as what her attorney called a "parting gift" to Boeing before joining the company as an executive. Druyun was sentenced Oct. 1 to nine months in prison.

"We don't expect any impact from them," Stonecipher said on a conference call. "If anybody finds anything that needs to be cured, we'll cure it. But we don't expect them to find anything." -->

Net earnings for the July-through-September quarter were $456 million, or 56 cents per share, up from $256 million, or 32 cents per share, a year earlier.

Results included gains of 14 cents per share from state tax settlements and other tax adjustments, 2 cents per share from the sale of Boeing Capital's commercial finance unit and a charge of 4 cents per share for retiring debt.

Excluding those items, Boeing said operating earnings were 44 cents a share — 4 cents higher than the consensus estimate of analysts polled by Thomson First Call.

Revenues rose 8 percent to $13.2 billion from $12.2 billion.

Citing lower tax expense than expected in the third quarter, the company raised its estimate of 2004 earnings by 15 cents a share to a range of $2.40 per share to $2.60 per share.

Shares in the Chicago-based company rose 12 cents to close at $50.10 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. They are up 19 percent this year.

The defense division generated nearly $8.3 billion in revenues, up 13 percent, and accounted for $816 million in earnings from operations.

The commercial airplane unit registered $168 million in operating earnings but saw revenues slip to $4.6 billion despite increasing its deliveries to 67 airplanes in the quarter, which Boeing attributed to a higher proportion of smaller 737s in that total.

The company left unchanged its 2004 forecast of approximately 285 deliveries but said it now expects to deliver about 320 airplanes in 2005 — at the high end of its previous range. Despite the current struggles of its airline customers amid soaring fuel prices and other challenges, it said global commercial airplane markets are improving and further recovery is expected in 2006.

For the first nine months, net earnings were $1.7 billion, or $2.07 per share, compared with a loss of $414 million, or 52 cents per share, a year earlier when results were weighed down by charges reflecting the severe aviation slump. Revenues increased 6 percent to $39.1 billion from $37.1 billion.

Nevada Chemicals

Sandy-based Nevada Chemicals Inc. reported net income of $736,000, or 10 cents per share, for the quarter ended Sept. 30. That compares with $578,000, or 8 cents per share, for the year-ago quarter.

Revenues totaled $1.2 million, up from $954,000 a year ago.

For the first nine months of 2004, the company had net income of $1.9 million, or 27 cents per share, which compares with $1.2 million, or 16 cents per share, for the first nine months of 2003. Revenues totaled $3.3 million, up from $2 million.

Cyanco, a joint venture of Winnemucca Chemicals Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Nevada Chemicals, is involved in the manufacture and sale of liquid sodium cyanide.

The company's stock was up 45 cents Wednesday to close at $6.86. During the past year, the price has ranged from $4.51 to $7.78.


Contributing: Dow Jones/Associated Press.