UPDATED with closing price. Shares in Charter Communications dropped 16.5% Friday after the company reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and a surprising loss of broadband subscribers.
Charter said it lost 61,000 internet customers in the quarter ending December 31, compared with Wall Street analysts’ expectation for a slight gain.
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The stock finished the day at $319.21 on trading volume that was nearly five times normal levels. After falling about 12% in the opening minutes, the stock drifted steadily lower as negative sentiment intensified.
Earnings of $7.07 tumbled from $7.69 in the same quarter a year earlier and also fell way below analysts’ consensus forecast for $8.73. Total revenue was flat at $13.7 billion, matching Street estimates.
Charter’s broadband woes follow rival Comcast’s quarterly report last month, which included the loss of 34,000 internet subscribers, wider than its year-earlier losses. Broadband has been seen as a bulwark for longtime cable providers battling through a period of widespread cord-cutting.
“Internet growth in our existing footprint has been challenging, driven by admittedly more persistent competition from fixed wireless and similar levels of wireline overbuild activity,” Charter President and CEO Chris Winfrey said during a conference call with analysts. He characterized the issues in the quarter as “temporary challenges.”
The company said it shed 248,000 residential video customers in the quarter of 2023, compared to a decline of 145,000 in the fourth quarter of 2022. The losses were “partly driven by video disconnects related to the temporary loss of Disney programming in early September” during a carriage dispute, the company said in its earnings release. Charter ended the year with 13.5 million residential video customers. Video revenue, accordingly, fell 8% in the quarter.
There was minimal talk of the Disney fight during the earnings call. Winfrey highlighted the launch of Xumo, a joint venture with Comcast, during the fourth quarter. Xumo aims to present a streamlined interface for streaming customers. Strategically, Winfrey said it also fits with the company’s plans to “modernize” its distribution agreements in the vein of its Disney carriage deal, preventing “customers from paying twice” for video in pay-TV and streaming.
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