BCE Inc. is raising its quarterly dividend and predicting its 2014 adjusted earnings will be up more than three per cent compared with last year, building on growth at its Bell subsidiary.
The Montreal-based telecom and media company says its common share dividend will rise by six per cent or 14 cents to $2.47 per year, including a quarterly payment of 61.75 cents per share on April 15.
BCE's adjusted net earnings, one of the key measures watched by analysts, came in at $2.99 per share for all of 2013 — up one per cent from $2.96 per share in 2012 and within its previous guidance.
"Bell's strategy of intense investment in Canada's next-generation communications infrastructure is delivering for our customers and shareholders," said George Cope, who is president and CEO of both BCE and Bell Canada, its main subsidiary.
"Momentum continued across all Bell's business segments, especially in our wireless, media, TV and internet growth services."
In the fourth quarter, BCE's adjusted net earnings were $540 million, an increase of 16.4 per cent from a year earlier, with adjusted earnings per share at 70 cents.
That was a penny higher than the estimate of 69 cents per share compiled by Thomson Reuters, however revenue fell short of estimates.
BCE Inc., which owns Bell Canada, CTV Inc. and other media and telecom companies, says its overall revenue for the three months ended Dec. 31 was $5.38 billion — up 4.3 per cent from $5.16 billion.
Analysts had estimated more than $5.4 billion of revenue.
Net earnings fall
BCE also recorded fourth quarter net earnings of $495 million, or 64 cents per share, down from $666 million, or 86 cents per share, from the same quarter in 2012.
The company says the year-over-year decrease in net earnings was due to a non-cash gain recognized in the fourth quarter of 2012 on the transfer of spectrum from Inukshuk to its partners.
For all of 2013, BCE's net earnings were $1.975 billion, or $2.55 per share, down 17 per cent from $2.4 billion, or $3.17 per share, compared to the previous year. BCE says the decrease was partly due to $230 million that Bell was ordered to pay by the CRTC as part of the acquisition of Astral that was completed in the third quarter.
Bell said its operating revenues grew 5.2 per cent in the fourth quarter to $4.8 billion, driven by steady wireless growth and strong TV and Internet expansion outpacing declines in traditional voice services.
Bell Media operating revenue rose 38.9 per cent in to $821 million, thanks to higher advertising and subscriber fee revenues from the Astral acquisition, which closed on July 5, 2013.
In its 2014 guidance, BCE says it expects adjusted net earnings per share of between $3.10 and $3.20, up from $2.99 in 2012. The company also expects Bell's revenue growth to be in the two to four per cent range.