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Chorus first-half result ahead of expectations

Chorus delivered a net profit of $66 million for the first half.

Paul McBeth
Mon, 20 Feb 2017

Chorus beat first-half profit expectations and raised its forecast for annual earnings as the telecommunications network operator benefited from the increase in regulated prices on its copper lines, even as connection numbers fell in an increasingly competitive environment. 

Net profit rose to $66 million, or 14c per share, in the six months ended December 31 from $33 million, or 7c, a year earlier, the Wellington-based company said in a statement. Revenue rose 10 percent to $529 million while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation gained 22% to $335 million. Forsyth Barr analyst Blair Galpin, who has a 'neutral' rating on the stock, was expecting a profit of $60.8 million, ebitda of $318 million and revenue of $525 million. 

"The increases in net profit and ebitda were mostly due to the effect of regulated copper price increases, a changed capitalisation approach and careful management across expense lines," Chorus said in a statement. The company also raised guidance for annual ebitda by $20 million to a range of $645-665 million. 

Chorus got some relief from the Commerce Commission in late 2015 when the regulator decided to wind back some of the price reductions it planned to enforce for the network company's copper infrastructure.

Since then, Chorus has been at odds with Spark NZ, its biggest customer, over the security of service on copper while Spark has been pushing wireless broadband as an alternative not only to copper-based but also the fibre-optic cable.

Chorus today said that the push to switch customers on to wireless broadband networks and local fibre companies gaining market share in their regions led to a 2.8% decline in fixed line connections to 1.68 million, and a 1% dip in broadband connections to 1.21 million. 

Chief executive Mark Ratcliffe, whose tenure finishes today, says wireless broadband is viable for some customers with low data usage and with poor broadband coverage but that Chorus's copper network offered "rock-solid reliability and consistent performance" needed for voice and internet services. 

"We continue to invest in our copper network and, on average, a customer with a copper broadband connection is likely to only experience a fault on our part of the network roughly once ever five years," he says. 

Parts of Chorus's copper network are set to be deregulated if the government settles on a proposed regime for telecommunications. Minister Simon Bridges this month outlined plans to deregulate copper where it competes with fibre from 2020, when a new regulated pricing regime comes into effect. 

Chorus said it's nearly two-thirds of the way through its ultrafast broadband build programme, and will add another 169 areas to its footprint under the second tranche of the project, announced in January. The company today reached an initial agreement with Broadspectrum to design and build the communal network for 145,000 UFB2 premises, with a separate design process being trialled for the remaining 24,000, which will be tendered later. 

The company's fixed line fibre connections rose 36% to 244,000 and fibre broadband connections climbed 38% to 231,000 in the half, helping generate a 49% jump in fibre revenue to $91 million. 

Chorus increased its forecast capital expenditure for 2017 by $30 million to a range of $640-680 million. It spent $302 million in the first half. 

Kate McKenzie formally takes over the reins as chief executive of Chorus today and has also been appointed to the board. 

Chorus shares last traded at $4.15 and have gained 10% over the past 12 months. 

The board declared an interim dividend of 8.5c a share, payable on April 4 to shareholders on the register at the March 21 close of trading.

Paul McBeth
Mon, 20 Feb 2017
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Chorus first-half result ahead of expectations