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Comcast to buy GE's stake in NBCUniversal early

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm •  Published: February 12, 2013
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The deal, expected to close by the end of March, values NBCUniversal at around $34 billion. It has about $5 billion in debt. When Comcast bought the 51 percent stake in the company in January 2011, it was valued at around $30 billion.

Jonathan Atkin, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the transaction will make Comcast less vulnerable to rising TV programming costs. He compared it to Time Warner Cable Inc., whose shares have plunged 13 percent since it reported in late January that profit margins were being squeezed by higher programming costs.

"Look at what happened to Time Warner Cable," Atkin said. "Comcast, as a slightly more diversified conglomerate, is less exposed to that."

Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, said it would finance the deal with $11.4 billion of cash on hand, $4 billion in debt owed to GE, $2 billion from its own credit lines and $725 million in preferred stock issued to GE. In issuing new debt notes to GE, Comcast is able to lock in today's historically low interest rates.

Comcast also reported its earnings results a day early, saying earnings rose 18 percent to $1.52 billion, or 56 cents per share, in the quarter through December. Excluding a favorable income tax adjustment, adjusted earnings came to 52 cents per share, falling short of the 54 cents per share expected by analysts polled by FactSet. Revenue rose 6 percent to $15.94 billion, also slightly below the $16.01 billion analysts were expecting.

Comcast lost just 7,000 video subscribers in the quarter, the best result in at least five years, ending the year with 22 million.

Roberts called the earnings results "great," saying that if it weren't for Superstorm Sandy, it would have added video subscribers for the first time in many years.

Comcast had bought the stake in NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. for $6.2 billion in cash and contributed its pay TV networks such as E! and The Golf Channel worth $7.25 billion. The deal closed after a year of regulatory scrutiny. The government imposed conditions intended to prevent Comcast from keeping NBC programming to itself at the detriment of other cable operators and video websites. One condition was that it would no longer have a say in the video website Hulu, which it jointly owns with the parent companies of ABC and Fox.

Regulators knew of Comcast's intentions to buy full ownership when they approved that deal. As a result of it, GE's stake in NBC Universal fell to 49 percent from 80 percent, but GE had planned to trim that to zero by being paid out from the venture. Before the Comcast deal closed, GE bought out the 20 percent stake held by France's Vivendi SA for $5.8 billion in order to complete the deal.

As part of Comcast's takeover, NBC Universal changed its corporate logo to NBCUniversal — without the space, the peacock or the globe silhouette. Officially, the company's name is still NBC Universal, but the space-less design was meant to represent the unity of its two main divisions. In December, Comcast appended NBC's peacock logo on top of its corporate name in a new logo of its own.