Level 3: First profit in six years

Level 3 Communications reported a $44 million profit for the fourth quarter, the network operator's first quarterly profit in six years. The company's earnings report also left investors with positive vibes about 2009, at least in terms of its ability to continue to make debt payments using positive, growing free cash flow, according to company officials. For the full year of 2008, Level 3 reported a $290 million net loss, much improved from 2007, when the company lost about $1.1 billion.

The news was not 100 percent positive, as the company actually posted an earnings-per-share loss for the quarter because it issued more shares during the quarter to help it refinance some debt. Level 3 also reported lower revenue, at about $1.05 billion for the quarter than it did for the same quarter in 2007.

Still, Level 3 Chairman and CEO James Crowe re-assured investors, saying that the company is better equipped today to handle a current economic environment that is not as bad as the one the company faced earlier this decade.

"Our own position is much better than it was at that time [the beginning of the decade]," he said on Level 3's earnings call. "...Not just Level 3 but other participants in our industry have noted that for what our competitors call wholesale and data, what we would call IP and optical services, pricing and demand are far better today than they were at the beginning of the decade. And for Level 3, we have a large, growing, and much, much more diversified revenue base."

For more:
- The Denver Business Journal has this report
- The Wall Street Journal covered Level 3 recently

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