Time Warner and Comcast report higher profits

US media companies Time Warner and Comcast have reported a rise in their fourth quarter profits. The

Time Warner posted a profit of $627m or 53c a share for the fourth quarter. During this period, the company's revenue rose two per cent to $7.14bn. It posted a profit of $2.47bn or $2.07 per share during 2009, compared to a loss of $13.4bn or $11.23 per share during 2008.

Despite sharp declines in Time Warner's home video releases, and its television syndication business, a string of box office successes including The Hangover, The Blind Side, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince helped the media company to swing into a profit. Time Warner had spun off Time Warner Cable and AOL last year, and has been focusing on movies, magazines and TV shows.

Jeff Bewkes, chairman and chief executive of Time Warner, said the company was evolving new business models, to enable customers to buy and read magazines on portable electronic devices. The company is also working to develop a 'TV everywhere' system to allow customers to view its content online.

Comcast recorded a profit of $955m or 33c per share in the fourth quarter. Its full year revenue rose by 3.9 per cent to $35.76bn and the profit in 2009 rose to $3.64bn, compared to $2.55bn in 2008. If Comcast's purchase of a 51 per cent stake in NBC Universal is approved, it is likely to become one of the largest media conglomerates in the US.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.