UPDATE: AOLTW to restate 2000-2002 earnings

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ITworld.com –

Upon releasing mixed third-quarter 2002 results Wednesday, AOL Time Warner Inc. (AOLTW) said that it would be restating financial results over a two-year period due to an ongoing investigation into questionable deals forged by its America Online Inc. (AOL) division.

The media monolith will restate results for the quarters ended Sept. 30, 2000, to June 30, 2002, which will reduce the company's revenue by US$190 million, and its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) by $97 million.

However, the company emphasized that the adjustments represent approximately 1 percent of AOL's total revenue for the two-year period.

"These amounts are quite small compared to total revenues," AOLTW Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Parsons said in a conference call Wednesday.

The news comes as the company undergoes dual probes by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), which are looking into the unit's accounting practices amid charges that AOL double-booked some revenue from ad deals in a practice known as "round-tripping."

Earnings restatements weren't the only bad news for AOL, as the Internet unit dragged down AOLTW's third-quarter results, which met revenue expectations but slumped on earnings.

For its third-quarter AOLTW reported net revenues of $9.98 billion, with an operational loss of $55 million, or 0.01 per share. This compares to revenue of $9 billion for the third-quarter of last year, with a loss of $997 million, or $0.22 a share.

A survey of analysts by Thomson Financial/First Call forecast revenue of about $9.9 billion, and earnings of $0.18 a share.

Revenue from AOL declined 7 percent during the quarter, while its EBITDA slid 30 percent.

Gains were led by the New York company's cable and network divisions, however, which posted revenue increases of 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

"I'm satisfied with the company's overall performance. Except for AOL, our core businesses are doing quite well," Parsons said.

Attention has been focused on AOL as it strives to jump the hurdles of a weak online advertising market, slowing subscriber growth and dual government probes into its financial dealings.

AOLTW has launched an internal investigation into the matter. It flagged three transactions earlier this year which it said may have resulted in the improper booking of $49 million worth of revenue.

During Wednesday's call, Parsons said the earnings restatements center on those three transactions and "several others."

However, he added that although the internal review is ongoing, he does not expect any further restatements.

Murky financials are just one of AOL's problems. The Internet unit has also been blamed for a 60 percent decline in AOLTW's stock price so far this year due to declining advertising and commerce revenues. However, AOL, recently revamped under the new leadership of Jonathan Miller, is hoping to get back on its feet with the help of a new version of its software, AOL 8.0, which was launched last week.

Company leaders conceded that it may take some time before AOL recovers, however. Although AOLTW reaffirmed its full-year 2002 guidance of revenue growth of 5 percent to 8 percent, AOLTW Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Wayne Pace said during the conference call that meeting these targets ultimately depends on AOL's performance.

And Parson's agreed that "(AOL's) turnaround will no doubt take time."

AOLTW stock closed up .22 percent at $13.53 per share, however trading had been halted in advance of the earnings restatement.

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