CALGARY - The chief executive officer of Shaw Communication Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) confirmed Thursday that his company has been looking at buying some of Canwest's assets, although he wouldn't say what has caught his interest.
Jim Shaw told reporters after the firm's annual meeting in Calgary that he has met with the Asper family, who run Winnipeg-based Canwest Global Communications (TSXV:CGS).
Shaw declined to specify which particular Canwest assets might be of interest.
"I'd call it exploring right now. There's no deal or anything," Shaw told reporters.
There have been reports that Shaw is among the top four most likely buyers for some or all of Canwest, which is under pressure by Canada's major banks and other creditors to deal with its heavy debts and unpaid interest payments.
There are a "whole bunch" of different options that Shaw could weigh - one being potentially putting some equity into Canwest.
"Maybe there's ways we could work together to make everybody better," said Shaw.
Another potential contender for at least some of Canwest is Toronto-based Corus Entertainment Corp. (TSX:CJR.B), which was spun off from Shaw several years ago.
The CEO of Corus, which owns specialty cable channels, radio stations and other entertainment businesses, said Wednesday his company would be interested in a select number of Canwest's specialty cable channels but not the whole company.
Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. (TSX:FFH), a Toronto-based company that invested heavily in Canwest in the past and the Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group are also reputed to be top possible bidders.
Most of Canwest is operating under court protection from its creditors. Among its assets are the National Post and other newspapers, the Global Television network and several specialty cable television channels.
Jim Shaw also said Thursday he expects the cable, satellite, Internet and phone company to have a new wireless business close to deployment around this time next year.
"We're just starting to work on it. I wouldn't expect a lot quickly, but it's in progress," Shaw said.
Unlike Toronto-based Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) and Quebecor's Videotron in Quebec, Western Canada's largest cable company has yet to add wireless phones to its service offerings - even though product bundling has been an effective marketing strategy for years.
Shaw has, however, purchased federal licenses that could be used to set up a wireless service in an auction of wireless spectrum held in 2008. It also has the option of partnering with another company with a wireless network.
In its first-quarter financial report issued early Thursday, Shaw said that net income slipped to $114.2 million, or 26 cents per share, for the quarter, down from $123.5 million or 29 cents per share a year earlier.
The company, meanwhile, is boosting its dividend by five per cent, or four cents, to 88 cents on class B shares starting on March 30.
Total revenue from all services rose nearly 11 per cent to $905.9 million from $817.5 million as it grew its customer base and increased service rates.
Shaw paid $200 million for wireless spectrum auctioned by the federal government, which said it was aiming to increase competition in a wireless industry currently dominated by three companies - Rogers, BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) an Telus Corp. (TSX:T)
RBC Capital Markets analyst Jonathan Allen wrote in a note to clients that he believes Shaw has partnered with Rogers to accelerate its rollout of wireless products, and could launch as early as later this year.
Shaw's profits in the quarter ended last Nov. 30 were affected by $82 million in costs related to debt retirement, or repayments of its outstanding debt, which was nearly double the amount logged a year earlier.
The earnings missed expectations of 35 cents per share according to a survey of 14 analysts by Thomson Reuters, though the company soared above their predictions of $895 million in revenue.
Shaw's adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization $400 million was a "touch lighter" than the $418 million RBC Capital Markets had been expecting, Allen suggested.
The difference was "due to higher employee compensation costs and the timing of the Mountain Cablevision acquisition."
Last October, Shaw became the country's largest cable operator after receiving approval from the CRTC to acquire Mountain Cablevision in Hamilton. The company also owns the StarChoice direct-to-home satellite TV service, and is a major supplier of Internet and digital phone services in western Canada.
Shaw's B shares fell nine cents to $20.61 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday. The Shaw family controls the company through a separate class of multiple-vote shares that aren't publicly listed.