BCE raises annual dividend by 5% after solid Q4

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Canada's second-largest wireless carrier has used Huawei equipment extensively in the radio access portions of its 3G and LTE (4G or long-term evolution) networks, but Mr. Cope noted BCE has not used the gear in its core network, which carries more sensitive information.

"If there was a ban or we chose a different supplier than Huawei for 5G, we're quite comfortable all those developments would be addressed within our traditional capital intensity envelope and therefore no impact from a capital expenditure program outlook", Cope said. They noted a 5G ban against Huawei "would still bring about some problems" for the two Canadian wireless companies. Britain is considering taking similar steps and carriers in several European countries are also re-evaluating their relationship with the vendor.

BCE's Bell Canada and rival Telus Corp. are the Canadian telecommunication companies most exposed if Trudeau decides to freeze out Huawei from the next-generation network. Rogers is working with Ericsson while Shaw has been working with Nokia. Customer growth for the fourth quarter was less strong however than in the previous quarter though losses also slowed.

However, BCE's overall net profit was down eight per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2017, due to higher expenses that are excluded from adjusted earnings.

Overall revenue for the Montreal-based company rose three per cent to $6.22 billion from $6.04 billion, ahead of analyst estimates of $6.17 billion, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Those expenses included a $190-million non-cash asset impairment charge related mainly to Bell Media's French-language specialty TV properties, which have experienced a declining subscriber base.

BCE also announced a five per cent increase in its common share dividend, which rises to $3.17 per year or 79.25 cents per quarter.

BCE added 122,000 wireless customers on contracts in the period, below analyst estimates of 149,000.

BCE INC., parent of BELL MEDIA, saw operating revenues increase 3% year-to-year to C$6.215 billion in fourth quarter 2018, with net earnings off 8% to C$642 million but adjusted net earnings rising 7.9% to C$794 million. In a release, Cope referred to the wireless market as "intensely competitive". Specifically, Bell added 143,114 wireless subscribers, including 121,334 postpaid and 21,334 prepaid, plus 29,627 new high-speed internet customers, and 36,473 new IPTV customers. It lost 23,000 satellite TV customers.

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