Earnings: Viacom, Martha Stewart, Taser, Harrah's

Earnings: Martha Stewart | Taser | Harrah's | Viacom

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Martha Stewart Earnings Beat Expectations

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (MSO) posted better-then-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday as advertising increases at its flagship magazine helped reverse a year-earlier loss.

Omnimedia reported a profit of $2.9 million, or 6 cents per share. A year earlier, when founder Martha Stewart was serving a prison sentence for lying to investigators about a personal stock sale, the company posted a loss of $7.3 million, or 15 cents a share.

Revenue rose 40 percent to $84.5 million, fueled by a 133 percent increase in advertising pages in the magazine Martha Stewart Living.

Excluding non-cash compensation expenses, the company said it earned 19 cents a share. On that basis, analysts' average forecast was 15 cents, according to Reuters Estimates.

Stewart has steadily expanded her empire since her release from prison, launching a daily talk show, a radio show and a home-building design agreement with KB Home. Omnimedia and KB Home have expanded that agreement beyond the first community in North Carolina to include developments in Atlanta, Orlando, Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Southern California and Florida.

Omnimedia also has a licensing agreement that will result in the roll-out of a "Martha Stewart Crafts" line in late 2006 or early 2007, marking another effort to get its founder's brand into the spotlight and keep earnings momentum.

Helped by the new agreements and further gains in publishing, the company said for 2006 it expects all business segments to show year-over-year improvements. At Martha Stewart Living, for instance, ad pages in the first quarter are expected to rise 70 percent from a year earlier.

Overall, first-quarter revenue should run about $60 million, the company said, compared with analysts' estimates of $62 million. It expects an operating loss of $8.5 million to $9 million after unspecified noncash charges.

For the full year, it is forecasting an operating loss of $9 million to $11 million on revenue of $270 million to $280 million.

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Taser Sees Profits Plunge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Taser International Inc. (TASR) said Wednesday fourth-quarter profit fell sharply as safety concerns depressed sales of its stun guns, and its shares declined by 12 percent.

Taser, which has faced a barrage of lawsuits and bad publicity over deaths linked to its weapons, reported quarterly profit of $92,697, or nil per share. That compares with a profit of $4.7 million, or 7 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Sales fell 34 percent to $12.6 million, while sales, general and administrative expenses rose by 50 percent.

Wall Street was expecting 1 cent per share profit, on revenue of $12.5 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

Shares of Taser were down $1.25 at $9.15 in premarket trade on the Inet electronic network.

Taser's weapons are still widely used by U.S. police departments, but many law enforcement agencies have held off ordering more Tasers as safety concerns continue to dog the company.

The company's stun guns, which disable victims with a 50,000-volt shock, have been linked to more than 100 deaths since 2001, according to human rights group Amnesty International. Taser says its weapons actually save lives when used by police officers as an alternative to guns.

So far the company has faced 12 wrongful death and personal injury suits but each has been dismissed.

Although Taser's sales and earnings are down from peaks in late 2004, its stock is up sharply this year, after the company resolved an investigation into its accounting by securities regulators.

Taser's shares are up about 49 percent so far this year. They fell as low as $5.31 in October, as investors worried about the outcome of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into the accounting for a large order from a retailer and Taser executives' comments on the safety of the company's weapons.

The shares hit an all-time high of $33.45 in December 2004, as sales and profit surged.

Harrah's Beats Wall Street Expectations

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (HET) Wednesday posted fourth-quarter results that topped Wall Street's expectations as business in its main hubs of Las Vegas and Atlantic City remained brisk.

But the hangover from last year's devastating U.S. hurricane season continued to impact its net results and the world's biggest casino operator posted a loss on charges resulting from damage to its Gulf Coast properties.

Las Vegas-based Harrah's, which acquired Caesars last June, reported adjusted earnings per share from continuing operations of 66 cents. Excluding special items, Wall Street analysts had forecast the company would earn 56 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Marc Falcone, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, said the company's operating results were strong, particularly in Atlantic City.

"We think this remains one of the best relative value opportunities in gaming today," Falcone said. But he added, "There's a lot of noise in here because of hurricane impact."

Harrah's posted a net loss of $142.2 million, or 78 cents share, compared with a profit of $76.9 million, or 68 cents a share, a year earlier.

Harrah's barge casinos in Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, were destroyed by Katrina and its casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was badly damaged by Rita in September.

A Harrah's spokesman said the company expected to recover the costs from insurance.

The Harrah's casino in downtown New Orleans reopened last week and its hotel in Lake Charles reopened this month. However, the company said it was still weighing its options in the region, which could include a possible exit.

Total revenue rose 76.2 percent to $2.1 billion, while sales at Harrah's properties open for a year or longer — excluding properties affected by the hurricanes and Caesars' properties — increased 12.3 percent compared with last year.

The company said its income from operations in the western region, including Nevada, jumped to $161.6 million from $61.8 million. In the eastern region, including Atlantic City, it rose to $97.5 million from $33.6 million.

Larry Klatzkin, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., said Harrah's results showed that the Atlantic City and Las Vegas markets continued to be strong.

Harrah's owns or manages more than 40 casinos mainly under the Harrah's, Caesars and Horseshoe brands. It has also signed agreements to develop gaming resorts in the Caribbean and Europe.

Harrah's shares were down 26 cents at $72.10 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Viacom Profits Fall

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Viacom Inc. (VIA) said Wednesday its fourth-quarter profit fell on a string of charges related to its split from CBS and severance costs, but revenue rose on higher advertising sales at its MTV Networks.

The company, which split from its broadcast TV group in January, posted a lower quarterly profit of $129.5 million down from a profit of $405.5 million.

Viacom posted fourth-quarter earnings per share of 29 cents from continuing operations.

The company did not furnish a net earnings per share figure.

Revenue rose 9 percent to $2.72 billion, topping Wall Street estimates of $2.6 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

Viacom's enterprise value trades at 10.29 times its expected 2006 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, ahead of Time Warner's multiple of about 9 and Walt Disney Co.'s multiple of 9.28.

The owners of the Paramount movie studio and Nickelodeon split from CBS in January to appeal to different classes of shareholders.

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