BT Unveils $2.5 Billion Share Buyback, Earnings In Line

Britain's BT Group unveiled a 2.5-billion-pound ($4.97 billion) share buyback programme on Thursday, as it posted fourth-quarter underlying core earnings in line with forecasts amid an upbeat outlook.

The UK's dominant fixed-line telecoms provider said it expected to complete the buybacks over two years ending in March 2009, and sought to maintain a "solid investment grade" credit rating.

BT posted underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 1.54 billion pounds for the three months to March 31 compared with 1.50 billion in the year-earlier period.

Underlying earnings per share rose 11% to 6.3 pence.

BT's revenue rose 3% to 5.29 billion pounds, below forecasts, with its so-called new wave revenues from broadband and corporate networked IT services rising 14%.

Analysts had on average forecast EBITDA of 1.53 billion, with revenue forecasts ranging between 5.31 billion and 5.41 billion pounds.

"We have delivered on our commitments and are confident we will continue to grow revenue, EBITDA, earnings per share and dividends over the coming year," outgoing Chairman Christopher Bland said in a statement.

BT said its retail unit accounted for 32% of net DSL broadband additions during the quarter, and overtook UK cable group Virgin Media to become the country's biggest broadband provider.

Shares in BT, up nearly 3% this year following a 18% gain in 2006, closed at 315-1/4 pence on Wednesday, giving it a market value of around 26.44 billion pounds. BT set a final dividend of 10 pence, taking the total for the year up 27% to 15.1p, representing two-thirds of earnings.