CanWest loses $104 million in fourth quarter


Winnipeg, - Investment losses and writedowns helped produce a huge fourth-quarter loss at CanWest Global Communications Corp., while revenues fell slightly, the media conglomerate reported Tuesday.

CanWest said it lost $104 million, or 59 cents a share, for the three months ended Aug. 31, nearly three times the $37 million, or 22 cents a share, the company lost in the fourth quarter last year.

Quarterly revenues fell to $574.5 million from $576.1 million.

During the quarter, CanWest wrote off $31 million of investment losses and also booked a $34 million loss on its stake in the Network Ten TV company in Australia.

For the full year, CanWest's earnings dropped to $13 million from $46.6 million, while annual revenues rose to $2.59 billion from $2.2 billion.

In the fourth quarter, CanWest wrote down the value of some investments, which contributed to the big net loss.

Fireworks Entertainment, the company's production and distribution division, also had an impact on the fourth quarter. It's revenues fell to $27 million from $76 million in the same quarter last year, resulting in an operating loss for the period instead of a profit a year ago.

Despite the poor financial results, the Winnipeg-based company said the resilience and steady operating results, ``in the face of one of the most difficult advertising environments in the last 50 years, proved the quality of CanWest's underlying media businesses.''

``The past year was a challenge by any measure, but on balance, our results for 2002 reflected good progress on the fundamentals, including concrete accomplishments in the implementation of our multi-platform media strategy,'' said Leonard Asper, CanWest's president and chief executive.

Looking ahead, Asper said the company will continue selling non-core newspaper and TV assets. In the last year, CanWest has raised about $500 million in this manner and used it to pay down debt.

``We continue to explore opportunities to divest or monetize additional assets that are not central to our corporate strategy, at prices which we believe reflect their fair value,'' Asper said.

Among other developments, Asper said:

The company expects ad markets to recover in fiscal 2003 and up-front television advertising sales in Canada are ahead of last year.

Readership is growing at many of the company's Southam papers and the National Post is doing well in most markets outside Toronto with gains being made in Toronto over the summer months as more Toronto and arts content was added to this paper.

``We are encouraged that the trend line is positive in newspaper ad sales with room for significant further growth just to attain their peak levels of two years ago,'' Asper said.

CanWest is Canada's largest publisher of daily newspapers through its Southam unit and the country's second-biggest private TV broadcaster through its Global Television division. It also has broadcasting interests in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

In trading on the Toronto stock market Tuesday, CanWest (TSX:CGS.S) shares rose 25 cents to $6.25.

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