Astral fourth quarter slides on tax issues

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TORONTO -- Despite higher cable and pay TV channel revenue and pretax earnings, Canadian broadcaster Astral Media said Wednesday that its net fourth-quarter earnings fell because of future income tax rate changes.

Montreal-based Astral posted earnings for the three months ending Aug. 31 of CAN$38 million ($37.2 million), down sharply from a profit of CAN$52.5 million in 2006.

Stripping out the impact of future income tax recovery after rate changes for fiscal 2007 and 2006, Astral saw its earnings stand at CAN$51.7 million ($50.6 million) during the latest quarter, compared with a year-earlier CAN$43.5 million.

Astral's EBITDA similarly rose to CAN$55.1 million ($54 million) during the latest quarter, against CAN$50.3 million in 2006.

Astral posted fourth-quarter revenue of CAN$161.6 million ($158.4 million), against CAN$147 million in 2006, as the broadcaster saw TV revenue climb 17% to CAN$116.8 million ($114.5 million), on top of revenue gains at its radio and outdoor advertising businesses.

By the end of October, Astral expects to close a CAN$1.08 billion ($1.07 billion) cash and stock deal to acquire 53 radio stations and 2 free-to-air TV stations from privately held Standard Radio.

The acquisition will enable Astral to expand its base of radio stations from Ontario and Quebec -- where it already operates 29 stations -- to run a total 83 radio stations in eight Canadian provinces.

Astral saw full-year earnings rise 11% to CAN$127.1 million ($124.5 million) on revenue totaling CAN$646 million ($633 million), against a profit of CAN$115 million on revenue of CAN$596.2 million in 2006.
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