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Jul 15, 2016

Shaw subscriber numbers hit by Alberta wildfires

Shaw Communications

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Shaw Communications Inc. faced an unexpected subscriber loss in the third quarter as 5,400 households were disconnected owing to the wildfires in Fort McMurray.

The Calgary-based cable company said Friday that many of those customers have since been reconnected as families and businesses returned following the evacuation of the city, but Shaw continues to face subscriber challenges in part because of the weak Alberta economy.

Nonetheless, Shaw posted a significant surge in profit in the three-month period ended May 31, with net income increasing to $704-million, or $1.44 per share, up from $209-million, or 42 cents per share, a year earlier.

Those gains stemmed from the sale of its media assets to Corus Entertainment Inc. and the inclusion of Wind Mobile, its new wireless division, for which it reported its first full quarterly results on Friday.

Shaw said Wind gained 23,000 subscribers in the period, which is less than many analysts had projected, but still pushed the business to more than 1 million customers.

Wind’s average revenue per user (ARPU), which is a closely tracked metric in the telecommunications industry, increased to $36.30, up from $35 in the most recent quarter.

Shaw lost close to 26,000 cable television subscribers, about 8,300 Internet customers and almost 10,000 telephone subscribers in the quarter. With persistent declines in home phone and cable, the company is looking to Internet and its new wireless division to provide future growth.

“We continue to make significant progress in our journey to becoming an enhanced connectivity provider,” chief executive officer Brad Shaw said in a statement.

He said network improvements at Wind are progressing as the company has replaced all of its equipment in Western Canada with gear from Nokia and plans to complete its network-wide upgrade to LTE (or fourth-generation) technology by the end of its fiscal 2017 year.

Higher costs in the third-quarter included $24-million in restructuring charges and a $51-million writedown of the value of the company’s investment in Shomi, the video streaming service Shaw owns jointly with Rogers Communications Inc.

Shaw’s total revenue for the period increased 13 per cent to $1.28-billion.

“Adjusting for some Fort McMurray impact, we view the results as largely in line,” said RBC Dominion Securities’ Drew McReynolds.

Shaw also said Friday that its preliminary plans for the fiscal 2017 year, call for $1.3-billion in spending on capital investments, which is slightly higher than the $1.2-billion Bay Street had projected.

Nevertheless, Desjardins Securities analyst Maher Yaghi said Friday the company’s guidance, “should provide some measure of comfort to investors who fear [free cash flow] pressure due to the investments in wireless.”