By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) - Strong demand for fibre broadband and television helped Britain's BT Group Plc to report higher-than-expected full-year results and give a bullish outlook on Thursday, sending its shares up more than 3 percent.
The 168-year-old former state telecoms monopoly said it would increase its payouts to shareholders and forecast earnings growth this year and next, signaling it has fully recovered from two major profit warnings that hit the group in 2008 and 2009.
Since then BT has rebuilt its business by cutting costs and launching new services such as superfast broadband and sports TV.
"These results provide a strong platform for growth and from which to achieve our outlook for the years ahead," Chief Executive Gavin Patterson said.
Shares in the group, which had retreated from a more than 10-year high of 421 pence set in February, were up 3.3 percent at 389.4p by 0854 GMT.
BT reported full-year revenue, profit and earnings either in line with or slightly above forecasts, helped by the strong demand for broadband. It added 170,000 broadband customers in the quarter, compared with 70,000 added by BSkyB.
It lost 49,000 consumer lines, its lowest level for more than five years. That helped underpin a 4 percent rise in full-year revenue at its BT Consumer unit, its first rise in 10 years.
Improvements at its Global Services division, the unit behind the 2008 and 2009 profit warning that handles the IT needs of large corporations, have also helped. Earnings at the division were up 12 percent.
For the group as a whole, core earnings or EBITDA were steady on the year before at 6.1 billion pounds ($10.4 billion), despite the heavy investment needed in the sports division, and adjusted profit before tax was up 6 percent.
It pledged to increase its dividend by between 10 to 15 percent this year and next and said it would extend its share buyback programme to 2015/16.
"Strong fourth-quarter numbers added to what had already been an impressive showing from BT, such that there is much scope for appreciation of the full-year results," Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said.
The results are likely to validate BT's strategy of cutting millions of pounds in costs to enable the country's biggest fixed-line telecoms group to invest in a more than 3 billion pound roll-out of a fibre network.
With the provision of superfast broadband increasing the range of services BT could deliver into a home, the company then moved into sports TV, stunning the sporting world in 2012 when it snapped up a package of English soccer Premier League rights.
Less than 18 months later it won the auction to show all European Champions League matches, proving itself an able challenger to Rupert Murdoch's dominant pay-TV provider BSkyB and underlining its willingness to invest in new services to protect its core telephony and broadband business.
(Editing by Paul Sandle and David Holmes)
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