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Comcast Earnings Buoy Investors

As cable companies fight new telco entrants, Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, gave shareholders a nice Valentine's Day card, reporting a 54% increase in fourth-quarter profit. Investors liked the news and Comcast's stock rose last Thursday by $1.43, or 8%, to $19.24 per share. Analysts were impressed.

Comcast also said it will pay a quarterly dividend beginning this spring and buy back $7 billion in stock—both moves apparently in reaction to investors' anxiety over the still-low stock price. Those measures were announced one day after the company said CEO Brian Roberts and his father, company founder Ralph Roberts, would reduce compensation to themselves and lower the bonuses paid to other top executives.

In the fourth quarter, Comcast reported a net income of $602 million (20 cents per share), compared with $390 million (13 cents) in the fourth quarter a year ago. Revenue was up 14% to $8 billion. Some of the gains were attributable to new acquisitions. In 2008, free cash flow is projected to rise at least 20% from its level of $2.3 billion in 2007.

Among its businesses, video, Internet and phone revenue all rose, and Comcast's digital-voice business continued to gain. But new basic subscribers fell and digital sign-ups slowed, as did the number of new Internet customers.

For the year, Comcast posted a 2% increase in profit to $2.59 billion (83 cents per share). Revenue increased by 24% to $30.9 billion.