MONTREAL — BCE Inc. says its strategy to keep increasing its shareholder dividend is on track and doesn’t depend on the acquisition of Astral Media.BCE will have the ability to increase its free cash flow to maintain its dividend growth strategy and the telecom company is also on track to meet its 2012 financial guidance, chief executive George Cope said Thursday.“The company’s market capital strategy hasn’t changed, no matter what the outcome of the Astral transaction ends up being,” Cope said, after announcing BCE’s quarterly profit dropped 12% to $569 million.The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission nixed Bell’s $3.4-billion friendly takeover of Montreal’s Astral, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of Canadians. Bell has asked federal cabinet to get involved, but the government has shown little appetite to do so.The deadline for the deal to be completed has been extended to Dec. 16 and either BCE or Astral can further extend it by one month.Cope was told by a financial analyst on a conference call that the “view on the Street” is that BCE may have to seek new acquisitions to fund its dividend if the Astral deal doesn’t go ahead.“We don’t concur with that,” Cope said. “(But) there’s no doubt the acquisition that we were looking at was going to help generate even more cash flow than we had anticipated on an organic basis.”When the acquisition was announced last March, BCE said it would use free cash flow from Astral to help fund its dividend.In its financial results, net income for the three months ended Sept. 30 dropped to $569 million, or 12%, from $642 million in the same quarter in 2011. Earnings per share were 74 cents versus 83 cents year-over-year.Adjusted net earnings fell to $588 million, or 76 cents per share compared with $724 million and 93 cents per share year-over-year.The adjusted EPS was a penny below analyst estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters, while mean estimates for revenue came in at $4.9 billion.Revenue at the Montreal-based telecom and media company’s was up slightly from the same time last year — $4.98 billion, compared with $4.91 billion in the third quarter of 2011.Most of that came from Bell Canada, BCE’s main subsidiary. Bell’s operating revenue was $4.39 billion, up from $4.31 billion a year earlier.Cope said the telecom giant had strong growth across its wireless, TV, Internet and media businesses.Bell’s wireless division had 149,00 net new subscribers, up 17.1% from the same quarter last year. These subscribers are generally on lucrative three-year smartphone contracts.By comparison, competitor Rogers Communications Inc. added 76,000 net postpaid customers who bought iPhones, BlackBerrys or Android smartphones in its third quarter.Bell’s revenue from its wireless operations increased 7.1% to $1.4 million year-over-year.Bell Media, which includes the CTV assets, saw its revenue in the quarter increase by 25.5% to $546 million, helped by broadcasting the 2012 Summer Olympics.“Not including the Olympics, advertising sales in Q3 across Bell Media’s television, radio and digital media properties continued to be impacted by a soft advertising market as a result of a slow-growing economy,” BCE said.Bell’s relatively new Bell Fibe TV, a direct challenge to cable operators such as Rogers, added 42,973 net new subscribers, up from 20,297 in the same quarter in 2011. At the end of the quarter, the relatively new Bell Fibe TV had 200,000 subscribers.Revenue from Bell’s wireline division, which includes Internet and TV services, was $2.5 million, up 4% year-over year.Bell also added more than 13,000 Internet subscribers in the quarter, versus a net loss of 101 in the same quarter in 2011.
In a news release, the agencies said that they are “concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Rural Damascus where several locations are increasingly difficult to access.”In particular, the UN agencies are trying to reach a civilian population stranded in the area of Muadhamiya in the capital city, where an estimated 5,000 families are believed to be holed up by the ongoing hostilities. The families are subject to “immense suffering” and have not received sufficient assistance for many months, the agencies said. Since March 2013, UN humanitarian agencies have submitted three official requests to the Syrian Government to allow access. The UN-led convoys carrying most needed relief items have been rescheduled seven times since then, awaiting official clearance, the Damascus-based agencies said.“This situation does not reflect the repeated pledges by the authorities to allow humanitarian actors to access all areas in Syria where there is need to deliver humanitarian assistance,” the UN humanitarian community said in a news release.Last week, the UN launched a $4.4 billion humanitarian appeal – the largest aid request in the Organization’s history – to assist the growing number of people suffering the effects of the crisis in Syria.The appeal, revised from $1.5 billion in January, covers relief activities for the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) and the Regional Response Plan (RRP).Of the $4.4 billion, $1.4 billion will go to SHARP, assisting Syrians inside Syria, and $3 billion to RRP, which provides life-saving aid and protection to refugees in the immediate surrounding region. So far, $1.2 billion have been received.In addition to this, the Governments of Lebanon and Jordan are seeking $450 million and $380 million, respectively, to support the efforts to provide education, health and other services to the refugees who are now in their countries.