Astral projects big earnings gains

TV leads strong performance across all three units

TORONTO — Specialty and pay TV, radio and outdoor advertising powerhouse Astral Media has posted its “strongest-to-date” year-end results, delighted company brass reported Thursday.

“2003 has been a spectacular year for Astral,” board chairman Andre Bureau told analysts. “We’ve achieved our strongest performance to date.”

Net earnings from continuing operations for the year ended Aug. 31 jumped 42% to C$71.3 million ($54.5 million) on revenues that jumped 23% to $363.6 million. Taking discontinued operations into account, net earnings for the year were $51.8 million, up 12% from 2002.

Any way you slice it, the Montreal-based company is looking good. All three operating units turned in a strong performance, with TV leading the way. TV subscriber revenue jumped 8% and ad revenue jumped 33% for the year. Astral’s subs base increased by 12% to 1.3 million subscribers.

Advertising is a growing proportion of Astral’s gross revenues, $136.1 million, or 37% for the year, up from $85.6 million, or 9% a year ago.

“Astral recorded a superb year in fiscal 2003, one that not only surpassed high expectations, but continues an extended period of growth in long-term value for our shareholders,” said Ian Greenberg, prexy and CEO. “We delivered on our promises of last year, and we are proud of our record financial results and of the strong performance of our business units.”

“Overall organic growth” of the company reached 20%, Greenberg told analysts, adding that this is the seventh straight year of double-digit growth.

Astral carries no debt, and by next year is expected to have between $50 million and $57 million in cash. Executives said the company is on the lookout for acquisitions.

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