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New subs buoy NTL in 4th qtr.

Record sales of $853 mil

LONDON — NTL has signed up 650,000 digital TV subscribers and looks to be on track to hit its financial targets for 2001.

The U.K.’s No. 1 cable company posted record sales of £586 million ($853 million) for the fourth quarter ending Dec. 21, pushing total sales for the year to $2.84 billion. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was $562 million for the year.

NTL’s debt — a legacy of years of heavy investment in building out its infrastructure — stands at $15 billion and is expected to peak at $20 billion in 2003.

The cabler said that it should hit 1.25 million digital subs by year’s end and claimed to be leading British telecom in rolling out broadband, with 13,000 homes already receiving the service.

Stomaching transition

Barclay Knapp, NTL’s chief exec, said the coming year would be one of digestion in the wake of the company’s raft of acquisitions over the past two years, the largest being the consumer business of Cable & Wireless Communications.

Knapp added that he sees eye to eye in most aspects with Liberty Media head John Malone when it comes to the European cable industry.

Liberty recently bought into the German cable sector, and holds stakes in pan-Euro cabler UPC and Telewest, Britain’s other cable operator.

Knapp, however, discounted the idea of an imminent link-up between NTL and Telewest. Many observers believe that a merger is inevitable.

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