CanWest shows can-do with boffo financial year

Company revs hit $598.4, up 7% from last year

TORONTO — CanWest Global Communications ended a tumultuous year with solid financials in line with analysts’ expectations.

Net earnings for the year ended Aug. 31 were C$146.1 million ($99.1 million) or 66¢ per share, up 7.3% on a pro forma basis from the previous year. Revenue on the year was $598.4 million, up 7% from the previous year. (The figures were adjusted to account for the midyear reduction of CanWest Global’s interest in Network Ten in Australia from 76% to 57.5%, at the behest of Oz regulators.)

CanWest chief operations officer Leonard Asper called 1999 an important year for laying the groundwork for growth and repositioning the company from a broadcaster to a more vertically integrated international media group.

“Among the highlights of the year are the successful first full year of operation of the TV3 Network in Ireland, the launch of our Internet strategy with the acquisition of interests in two Internet content providers, and the substantial increase in the production slate and the distribution library of CanWest Entertainment.”

“I think that’s a fair comment,” said Toronto-based TD Securities media analyst Scott Cuthbertson, noting CanWest’s operations in development went from a loss of $678,000 in 1998 to almost $15 million in 1999. “That represents a significant investment the company is making in its future. They’re fueling the pipeline for future growth.”

Startup costs of $14.8 million from TV3 and a weak currency and economy in New Zealand put a dent in broadcast operating profit (earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation amortization), which fell 25% to $22.7 million.