BCE Inc. is raising its quarterly dividend 5.1 per cent as it reported financial results that show it has almost fully recovered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The telecommunications giant said Thursday it nearly returned to pre-COVID consolidated revenue and adjusted EBITDA in 2021.
“We’ve achieved our objective of steadily improving since Q2 of 2020, and in fact, we’re now essentially at 2019 levels,” said Mirko Bibic, president and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada, on the company’s earnings call.
BCE will pay a quarterly dividend of 92 cents per common share, up from 87.5 cents per share. It marks the 14th consecutive year of dividend increases of at least five per cent.
The higher payment to shareholders comes amid positive subscriber growth and higher operating revenue, and despite profit falling in the fourth quarter.
BCE reported its best annual retail residential net subscriber performance in 10 years and also surpassed its 2021 expansion targets by reaching one million households with wireless home internet one year ahead of schedule.
Despite ongoing uncertainties tied to the pandemic, BCE expects revenue growth to increase one to five per cent in 2022, with adjusted EBITDA growth of two to five per cent.
While these growth expectations are largely in line with analyst forecasts, compared to top competitor Rogers Communications Inc. they are significantly lower. Rogers anticipates total service revenue growth in the range of four to six per cent and EBITDA growth of six to eight per cent.
In a note, Desjardins analyst Jerome Dubreuil attributes this to the economic reopening likely benefitting Rogers more.
BCE plans to further accelerate its 5G rollout strategy with the goal of covering 80 per cent of the Canadian population by the end of 2022. The company is also betting on its new unlimited Ultimate plans that put 5G capabilities in the spotlight.
“As we look ahead to 2022, we plan to reach up to 900,000 more homes and businesses with direct fibre connections and expand the reach of our 5G network to meet our growing customer needs,” Bibic said in the company’s earnings release.
BCE reported a profit of $625 million attributable to common shareholders or 69 cents per share in the fourth quarter, compared with a profit of $889 million or 98 cents per share a year earlier.
Operating revenue totalled $6.21 billion, down from $6.10 billion.
On an adjusted basis, BCE said it earned 76 cents per share for the quarter, down from an adjusted profit of 81 cents per share a year earlier.
Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 73 cents per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2022.
Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE)
Adena Ali, The Canadian Press