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Telephone & Data 1Q Net Rises 20% As US Cellular Net Jumps 77%

05/04/2012 | 10:01am US/Eastern

Telephone & Data Systems Inc.'s (>> Telephone & Data Systems, Inc.) first-quarter earnings rose 20% as the profit at its U.S. Cellular Corp. (>> United States Cellular Corporation) jumped a better-than-expected 77%.

U.S. Cellular--which accounts for the bulk of TDS's revenue--has been steadily losing postpaid subscribers amid fierce competition in a wireless industry nearly saturated with cellphones. In an effort to attract prepaid subscribers, U.S. Cellular teamed up with Atlantic Tele-Network Inc.'s (>> Atlantic Tele-Network, Inc.) Alltel Wireless unit to sell "U Prepaid" no-contract wireless service in nearly 500 Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) locations, starting this month.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services in March lowered its ratings outlook for both TDS and U.S. Cellular to negative from stable, saying competitive pressures at U.S. Cellular could intensify, resulting in increased subscriber losses.

TDS--a provider of wireless, landline and broadband services--reported a profit of $52.2 million, or 48 cents a share, up from $43.5 million, or 39 cents, a year earlier. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had most recently forecast earnings of 35 cents.

Revenue jumped 3.7% to $1.31 billion, reflecting a 2.6% rise in TDS Telecom revenue. Operating margin edged up to 7.2% from 7.1%.

Meanwhile, cellphone-service provider U.S. Cellular reported a profit of $62.5 million, or 73 cents a share, up from $35.2 million, or 41 cents, a year earlier. Operating revenue jumped 3.3% to $1.09 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had most recently forecast earnings of 44 cents on revenue of $1.09 billion.

Operating margin rose to 7.8% from 5.6%.

The carrier said it lost 38,000 postpaid customers in the most-recent quarter, pushing its total base down 3.2% to 5.84 million customers from 6.03 million a year earlier.

Postpaid average revenue per contract customer rose 5.4% to $54. The customer turnover rate, known as churn, rose to 1.6% from 1.4% a year ago and was flat with the prior quarter.

Both companies backed their full-year guidance

Shares of TDS and U.S. Cellular closed Thursday at $24.44 and $40.51, respectively. Both were inactive premarket.

-By Melodie Warner, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2283; melodie.warner@dowjones.com

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