July 23, 2019 / 2:02 PM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-Broadcaster CME raises 2019 profit forecast for second straight quarter

(Adds raised outlook, shares, CEO comments on results, dividend)

PRAGUE, July 23 (Reuters) - Broadcaster Central European Media Enterprises (CME) raised forecasts for 2019 core profit and cash flow growth for the second time this year after its second quarter performance beat expectations.

Shares in the company jumped 3.7% to their highest since the end of 2017 in Prague and have soared more than 60% this year on rising earnings and speculation the company could be sold. It also has a Nasdaq listing.

CME, majority owned by U.S. media group AT&T, launched a strategic review in March, saying the sale of part or all of the company was among options.

The companies, though, have not commented since and CME management did not provide an update on Tuesday.

In the second quarter, CME reported operating income before depreciation and amortisation (OIBDA) increased to $73.3 million, a 20.5% year-on-year rise.

Its OIBDA margin grew in all five of its European markets, to an overall 39.9% from 33.4% a year earlier.

Revenue hit $183.6 million, up 7.9% at constant exchange rates but flat in actual terms.

CME said the quarterly growth at constant rates was its best in four years and it expected the trend of growing spending on television advertising in its markets to continue.

It raised its full-year OIBDA forecast to growth of between 14-16% at constant rates, up from a previous forecast of 12-14%. Unlevered free cash flow should rise 14-16% at actual rates, up from a previous estimate of around 10% growth.

CME, co-founded by Ronald Lauder in the 1990s, owns TV stations in five central and eastern European markets, including the leading Nova network in its most lucrative market, the Czech Republic. Its biggest market by population is Romania.

Co-Chief Executive Michael Del Nin said that could amount to full-year 2019 OIBDA of $245 million and free cash flow, minus interest payments, of $155 million.

"This level of cash generation is unprecedented in company history," Del Nin said.

CME has used its improving results in recent years - after some loss-making years - to cut into a debt pile that once topped $1 billion but is now at a net $633 million.

The company said its net leverage ratio fell to 2.6 times, from 3.5 times at the start of the year, cutting its average cost of borrowing to a new low of 3.4%.

The falling leverage levels have opened the possibility of CME paying its first dividend or a share buyback. However, management appears to be in no rush until the strategic review concludes.

"When we reach the tail-end of that review... included in that would be a careful analysis of what target leverage should be (and) what we should do with excess cash," Del Nin said.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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