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On Thursday, 1/26/2023, Comcast ($CMCSA) reported fourth quarter earnings that beat most expectations despite a lack of strength in subscriber growth and losses from Peacock (their streaming service).
Earnings per share came in at $0.82 for the quarter, beating expectations of $0.77 by 6.4%. Revenues came in at $30.6B beating expectations of $30.4B and a previous quarter of $29.8B. Good news so far!
Unfortunately, Adjusted EBITDA fell by 15% to $8B from $9.5B from the prior quarter. This was mostly due to higher severance expenses as hinted at by CFO Mike Cavanagh in the third quarter call. He said, “As we enter the fourth quarter and look to our year ahead, we remain focused on driving long-term growth during an increasingly challenged economic environment… We expect we will be taking severance and other cost reduction-related charges in the fourth quarter in anticipation of expense reduction actions that will provide benefits in 2023 and beyond.”
Comcast report 26,000 lost broadband customers for the quarter, attributing impact to Hurricane Ian which hit Florida and South Carolina in September. The hurricane caused severe damage and losses to the homes of subscribers. When looking at total customer relationships, the firm estimates the total number decreased by 36,000 and broadband increased by 4,000 when excluding the effects of the hurricane.
Though subscribers are growing, the pace has slowed compared to quarters prior to Covid. Competition from telecom and wireless providers are growing, and a housing slowdown in the US contributes to a lack of new customers as the shift to new homes. Total customer relationships of 34.3M increased slightly form 34.2M last year.
Comcast’s wireless segment, Xfinity, added 365,000 customers in the quarter, brining the total subscriber base to over 5.3M. Wireless customer growth has been consistent since jumping into the business in recent years. This was offset by a loss of 440,000 cable video subscribers as customers continue to cut traditional TV bundles in favor of streaming.
NBCUniversal is the business segment that contains the media (cable, streaming, and related advertising figures), studios (movie studios such as Universal Pictures, Dreamworks, and Focus Features) , and theme parks (5 Universal Parks and Resorts) businesses.
Revenues for Universal were up about 3% from the prior quarter to $9.8B. Revenues was boosted by the 2022 FIFA World Cup which aired on Peacock and their Spanish-language network Telemundo.
Though overall results are good, Peacock has continued to weigh on the business. Adjusted earnings fell by nearly 50% to $817M due to Peacock losses and severance expenses. $978M of that is attributed to Peacock losses compared to a loss of $614M last quarter.
This quarter, Peacock added 5M new paying Peacock customers to the subscriber base, brining the total number to 20 million. This increase could be attributed to the World Cup, football season, and English Premiere League. The company remains committed to earning a return on their Peacock investment, though next year doesn’t look like the year for it. Overall, Peacock’s losses for the year of $2.5B were in line with the company’s earlier outlook. Next year, Michael Cavanagh says they expect losses to be near $3B.
Theme parks remained a bright spot for the segment this quarter with $2.1B in revenue, right behind the studios revenue of $2.7B. Studios revenues were actually down compared to last quarter, however the segment ended the year strong with a #2 rank in the world wide box office for year thanks to movies like Jurassic World: Dominion and Puss In Boots: The Last Wish.
Lastly, Sky, the segment that holds one of Europe’s leading media and entertainment companies, reported 129,000 net customer additions. This was reflected in a revenue growth of $163M compared to last quarter. For the year, Sky revenues decreased 11.5% to $17.9B. When excluding the impact of currency, revenue only decreased $1.2%, highlighting the segment’s sensitivity to exchange rates.
These 4th quarter results won’t change any negative sentiment around the company, but it’s a step in the right direction. Broadband customer growth is still anemic. I believe the lack of growth in the broadband service is mostly an economic one. Comcast is well positioned to combat competition and maintain pricing power. Broadband business lost customers this quarter for the first time. Average revenue per customer, however, grew 3.5% year over year. The cable segments’s EBITDA margin was flat versus last year, but would have hit a record 45% if the higher severance costs hadn’t hit.
Peacock showed better growth this quarter with 5 million net adds, but still reported a loss, crushing the margins of the Universal segment. Universal faces more challenges, but a rebound in theme parks and the growth in Peacock is a good step in the right direction.
Free cash flows took a hit for the year, dropping to $12.6B from $17.1B. Expenditures were heavily tied to a rebound in content and higher cash taxes. Both items should show less of an impact for 2023. The company’s balance sheet is strong and has allowed the company to raise its dividend by 7.4% to $1.16 for 2023, their 15th consecutive increase. Approximately $17.7B was returned to shareholders this year through $4.7B in dividends and $13B in share buybacks.
Overall, $CMCSA still looks undervalued to me. It has the stability of a telecom stock with it’s focus on broadband, has potential growth aspects of similar streaming companies with Peacock, an impressive ability to bring in revenues at the box office, and a knack for stretching profits out of popular franchises with a growing theme park business. All of these items make them a diversified company that is hard to compete with and an attractive opportunity for long-term investors.
All information provided is available on Comcast’s Earnings page with access to the earnings releases, presentations, and transcripts. Both the Q3 and Q4 2022 earnings materials were used in this article.