Fourth-quarter operating income increased 4% to $2.1 billion, or $0.44 per share. Given some one-time gains due to discontinued operations and accounting changes, such as the gain on the sale of AOL's Internet access businesses in the U.K. and France and a tax benefit, that per-share figure includes a $0.21 boost, leaving $0.23 per share, which met analysts' estimates. Sales increased 8% to $12.47 billion. (For a full rundown, please see our related Fool by Numbers feature.)
Everybody's got their eye on AOL, of course, considering Time Warner has changed the strategy for that unit by tearing down the gates around the AOL service and offering it for free. AOL's revenues decreased 8% in the fourth quarter to $1.9 billion. AOL subscribers decreased by 6.3 million on a year-over-year basis, but of course that's to be expected given the change in strategy.
Time Warner's film and publishing units also lagged a bit. Its film division has been up against difficult comparisons given some blockbuster hits last year, and for the fourth quarter, revenues decreased 15% to $3.1 billion. However, several of its movies have received Oscar nominations, including The Departed, Blood Diamond, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Happy Feet. Time Warner's publishing division revenues dropped 1% to $1.5 billion.
The bright spot, as has been the case for a while now, were the cable and networks divisions, which have been offsetting weakness elsewhere in the media conglomerate. Cable revenues increased 58% to $3.7 billion, and networks revenues increased 10% to $2.7 billion.
Time Warner's been addressing Carl Icahn's demands this past year with its $20 billion share repurchase program; it said that it has repurchased $16.4 billion worth of stock through Jan. 30, and it expects to complete the program in the first half of 2007. A quick glance at the balance sheet reveals a 63% decrease in cash and a 73% increase in long-term debt. For the entire year, however, free cash flow increased 13% to $4.76 billion.
The huge media conglomerate gave an earnings outlook of $1 per share for 2007, a penny shy of what analysts were expecting. It also said it expects its growth rate for operating income before depreciation and amortization to be in the mid- to high teens, with the expectation of converting 30% to 40% of that into free cash flow.
It's not too surprising if investors didn't feel like Time Warner's news exactly set the world on fire or anything. Like I said, it still seems as if the company's strength lies in cable and networks, and the long-term effectiveness of AOL's new strategy remains to be seen (although it's noteworthy that for the full year, advertising revenue did increase by 41% at AOL). And of course, while one can see why the strategy is logical, it's no good to disregard the competition posed by Internet giants like Yahoo!
For related Foolishness, see the following articles:
- Traditional media continues its slide.
- Take a trip through 2006 in this Year in Review for Time Warner.
- Revisit last quarter's results at Time Warner.
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