Charter’s seeing less red during first quarter

Vogel, board not under investigation

Investors tuned in to debt-ridden Charter Communications Wednesday as Paul Allen’s cabler narrowed losses for the first quarter and shed fewer subscribers.

Execs said during a conference call that no member of Charter’s board, including CEO Carl Vogel, is a target of an ongoing grand jury investigation. Charter said it’s continuing to cooperate with a parallel probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s also being sued by shareholders.

Charter slowed the flow of red ink to $182 million in the first three months from $317 million the year before. Revenue rose 9.7% to $1.8 billion and cash flow grew 7.5% to $458 million. It had $446 million in cash at the end of March.

The numbers helped boost Charter stock nearly 5% to a still lackluster $1.97.

Flirting with bankruptcy

The shares have been battered over accounting issues and federal probes as Charter has restated its financial results and, some Wall Streeters think, teetered on the verge of filing for Chapter 11. The stock’s so low that Allen announced last year he was considering taking it private, although he hasn’t pursued that yet.

However, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder recently injected $300 million into the St. Louis-based company.

Charter said its quarter was driven by lower capital spending and higher sales of high-speed service, where revenue rose 2%. Increase came from robust pricing and more lucrative package deals even as the company lost 31,700 high-speed subscribers. Charter also lost 50,600 analog customers for the quarter, less than the 57,500 it lost a year ago — and the 68,800 it lost in the fourth quarter.

Charter reported a $7 million charge to earnings, partly due to severance costs as the cabler laid off workers. It said it expects additional charges this year from restructuring and litigation-related costs.

Vogel acknowledged the company’s debt level is still too high in the current business climate and said it’s considering the sale of non-strategic assets.

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