WebMD’s Losses Worsen

ELWOOD PARK, N.J. — WebMD Corp. posted a much wider net loss for fourth-quarter net loss due to restructuring and related charges but revenue soared.

The online health company had a net loss of $1.35 billion, or $3.75 a share, compared with a year-earlier net loss of $234.7 million, or $1.98 a share.

Excluding restructuring, integration and non-cash expenses, WebMD (HLTH) said it would have lost $51.8 million, or 14 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $47.5 million, or 40 cents a share. The mean estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial/First Call was for a loss of 16 cents a share.

Revenue soared to $199 million from $33.2 million a year earlier.

President Marv Rich said in a prepared statement, “We have made significant progress in our efforts to consolidate operations and reduce spending in order to achieve our goal” of posting earnings from operations by the end of 2001. He added that “despite the soft Internet advertising market, we have been able to continue to sign new advertising contracts for our core WebMD.com advertising business.”

Pushing to become profitable after a series of mergers and executive changes, WebMD has been reworking several major alliances as it focuses on its long-term plan of electronically linking doctors, patients and health plans.

As an example, the company and News Corp. (NWS) restructured a 1999 deal in January. The revised agreement calls for WebMD to continue providing health-care content to News Corp. for use on its various media properties. However, the media giant will provide much less domestic advertising and branding services over the next decade than originally agreed to.

WebMD is still targeting a 2001 loss from operations of between $75 million and $100 million, compared with $246.2 million in 2000. The company didn’t provide per-share amounts. The Thomson Financial/First Call estimate is for a 2001 loss of 26 cents a share. WebMD has 359.4 million shares outstanding.

As of Dec. 31, the company had about $710.5 million in cash and marketable securities. During the fourth quarter, WebMD bought repurchased 5.1 million shares for about $30 million.

Copyright (c) 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.