Telus Corp. easily beat expectations for new television and internet subscribers in the third quarter while keeping costs in check to offset slowing revenue growth at its wireless business.
The Vancouver-based communications company said Thursday that it added 36,000 new internet customers and 18,000 TV subscribers in the period, almost doubling analyst forecasts. Telus is more than halfway through a multiyear project to bring fibre-optic cables directly to customers’ homes, offering a faster service that helps it market packages of internet and TV sold together.
At its larger wireless division, it attracted 109,000 new contract customers, also ahead of estimates for about 105,000. The average amount it charges wireless customers per quarter was flat compared with the same time last year at $68.64. That follows a growing industry trend of slower revenue growth Telus and its peers attribute to promotions with larger mobile data allotments and a reduction in charges for going over monthly data limits.
But Telus kept profit growing as it reined in wireless costs by limiting deep up-front discounts on expensive smartphones and encouraging the use of digital, self-serve tools for customer service.
Chief executive officer Darren Entwistle said the company’s long-standing emphasis on customer service helped it across both divisions, with lower rates of subscriber turnover leading to recurring revenue over a longer period of time without spending more on perks to woo new clients.
“Our strong Q3 results are buttressed by ongoing excellent performance in wireless and [residential] customer loyalty and lifetime revenue,” he said on a conference call.
Telus reported total revenue of $3.77-billion, up 11 per cent from $3.4-billion a year earlier and ahead of analyst estimates for $3.54-billion.
Profit increased by 10 per cent to $447-million or 74 cents a share, compared with $406-million or 68 cents in the same period last year. On an adjusted basis, earnings were also 74 cents a share, ahead of analyst estimates for 68 cents.
Telus said EBITDA increased 8 per cent to $1.35-billion, beating forecasts for $1.31-billion (EBITDA is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).
It announced a 7.9-per-cent increase to its quarterly dividend, hiking the payout to 54.5 cents for its next dividend payment, Jan. 2
The company also said Thursday that it is increasing its target for spending on restructuring charges for the year by $50-million. Chief financial officer Doug French said in an interview that Telus has been “simplifying our organization” by cutting some management-level jobs (he would not say how many). BCE Inc. revealed similar cuts last week, saying it had cut 700 jobs or 4 per cent of its management work force in the third quarter.
Telus is the last of the big three national carriers to report its third-quarter results and its numbers show the wireless market continues to expand at a fast pace. BCE attracted the most new subscribers in the period with 135,323 contract customers, followed by Rogers at 124,000.
The trio as a whole have added about 909,000 contract customers so far this year, ahead of 782,000 this time last year, which was already well ahead of previous years. The companies say the subscriber surge is a result of a combination of the stronger economy, population growth because of immigration, customers signing up for second devices for work and home and both younger and older users getting smartphones.
“The Canadian wireless industry continues to demonstrate solid customer growth with stable [average billings per user]” as well as increasing profit margins achieved by not relying on deep discounts to win customers, said Citigroup Global Markets analyst Adam Ilkowitz. “This market environment favours players that are less likely to initiate promotional activity, which we believe describes Telus and its consistent focus on value over volume."
On the residential side, as Telus has expanded the areas it serves with fibre-to-the-home and markets its bundle of more attractive services, Shaw Communications Inc., its rival in Alberta and B.C., has pulled back on deep discounts on its own TV and internet packages after an initial push last year when it launched its new internet-based television platform BlueSky TV. In its most recent report, Shaw said it shed 34,000 television subscribers and 2,000 internet customers in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended on Aug. 31.
Telus also said Thursday that U.S. banking executive Denise Pickett joined the company’s board of directors on Nov. 1. Ms. Pickett is chief risk officer and president of global risk, banking and compliance for American Express.