StarHub – BT

StarHub’s Q4 profit dips 15%

Broadband revenue down 8% while other 3 segments post sales increases


LOWER revenue from its broadband arm and higher cost of sales dragged StarHub’s fourth-quarter net profit down 15.1 per cent to $74.2 million.

Earnings per share for the quarter ended Dec 31, 2009, was 4.33 cents, compared with 5.11 cents in Q4 2008.

Q4 group revenue rose marginally by 2.5 per cent to $550 million, from $536.7 million.

‘I think it’s a reasonable set of results given the economic climate in Singapore (last year),’ said Neil Montefiore, StarHub’s newly-minted CEO.

The former chief of MobileOne took over from former StarHub helmsman Terry Clontz at the start of this year after he returned to the United States.

As with the previous quarter, Singapore’s second-largest telco is rewarding shareholders with a dividend of five cents per share for Q4, 0.5 cent more than the payouts for the first two quarters of 2009.

This brings its full-year dividend payout to 19 cents per share, higher than the 18 cents it paid in 2008 when the global economy took a drastic turn.

StarHub’s net profit for fiscal year 2009 rose 2.7 per cent to $319.7 million on the back of 1.1 per cent improvement in sales to $2.15 billion.

Full-year earnings per share came in at 18.68 cents, up from 18.28 cents in 2008.

The operator’s fourth-quarter profitability was dented by a 20.2 per cent increase in cost of sales to $230.3 million as a result of higher equipment and services costs.

An increase in handset subsidies due to the launch of Apple’s coveted iPhone in December and festive promotions were cited as the key reasons for the spike.

‘Typically with phones sold in Singapore, we see a payback in two to six months. That is the case with the iPhone,’ Mr Montefiore said at the results briefing yesterday.

Sales rose across three out of StarHub’s four business segments in Q4, with its broadband unit being the lone exception.

The company’s mobile business, which accounts for around half its sales, rose 3.1 per cent in the fourth quarter to $280.6 million.

StarHub’s mobile customer base climbed 8.6 per cent year-on-year to 1.92 million in Q4, thanks largely to the allure of the iPhone and other mobile promotions.

Pay-TV sales edged up 2.1 per cent in Q4 to $102.6 million and the much-feared customer defection in this segment did not materialise.

StarHub added 4,000 more cable television customers in Q4 despite having lost the English Premier League (EPL) broadcast rights for the next three seasons to arch-rival SingTel, ending the year with a tally of 539,000 customers. It previously said 10 per cent of its cable TV customer base could defect to the red camp as a result of the EPL loss.

Revenue from the operator’s fixed network business also rose 1.6 per cent in Q4 to $78.8 million.

However, these improvements were offset by an 8 per cent dip in its cable broadband sales during the period to $59.1 million as consumers continue to opt for lower-end plans and subscription discounts.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, StarHub expects to grow its 2010 operating revenue in the low single-digit range, and Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) margin on service revenue is seen at around 30 per cent.

The firm expects its cash capital expenditure to increase this year but it will not be more than 14 per cent of full-year operating revenue.

This is because of the projected investments that will be sunk into Singapore’s upcoming fibre-optic network by its new subsidiary Nucleus Connect.

This StarHub unit was formed last year after the telco clinched the government tender for operating and reselling bandwidth on the country’s new ultra-fast broadband highway.

The good news for shareholders is that StarHub intends to keep its quarterly dividend payout at five cents or more per share in spite of the higher capital outlay.

Besides preserving its dividend yield in 2010, the company’s new steward also intends to leave the operations of StarHub unchanged. ‘I will not be making any changes. It’s a well-run company,’ Mr Montefiore said.

StarHub shares closed unchanged at $2.17 before the earnings were released.

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