What Drove Time Warner Earnings 23% Higher in 2016

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Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2016 results before markets opened Wednesday. The entertainment giant posted quarterly adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.25 and $7.9 billion in revenues. In the same period a year ago, the company reported EPS of $1.06 on revenues of $7.08 billion. Fourth-quarter results also compare to consensus estimates for EPS of $1.19 and $7.72 billion in revenues.

For the full year, Time Warner posted adjusted EPS of $5.86 and revenues of $29.3 billion, compared with 2015 EPS of $4.75 and $28.12 billion in revenue. Analysts had forecast EPS of $5.80 and revenues of $29.11 billion.

Operating income rose 22% in the fourth quarter and was up 9.9% for the full year.

Revenues and operating income for the year both rose 7% at the company’s Turner division, while HBO revenues were up 5% and operating income rose 2%. At HBO, higher revenues were partially offset by increased expenses, including higher programming and restructuring and severance costs. Programming costs grew 7%, primarily reflecting increased original programming costs.

At the Warner Bros. Studio, revenues were essentially flat for the year but operating income jumped 22% largely on the success of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” TV revenues rose while video game revenues declined. Warner Bros. grossed nearly $5 billion in box office receipts last year.

In 2016, Time Warner repurchased approximately 31 million shares for about $3.26 billion. On October 23, the company discontinued buybacks due to the pending merger with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).

The report had nothing else to offer on the proposed merger, which presidential candidate Donald Trump called into question but President Trump has left alone. Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which must rule on the merger, could be a signal that the deal is now okay with the president.

CEO Jeff Bewkes had this to say:

We had another very successful year in 2016, demonstrating once more Time Warner’s ability to deliver strong financial performance alongside creative and programming excellence. All our operating divisions increased revenue and profits while also making investments to capitalize on the growing demand for the very best video content and new ways to deliver it to audiences around the world.

Compared with Disney’s earnings report released after markets closed last night, Time Warner’s year looks strong. But slow growth in HBO profits could be something investors should watch. Production costs for original content are rising. and competition from Netflix and others is getting stronger.

Shares closed down about 0.2% on Tuesday, but have added about 1% in Wednesday’s premarket action, trading at $97.20.  The stock’s 52-week range is $55.53 to $97.35.  The consensus 12-month price target was $104.57 before the announcement.