US cable giant Comcast Corporation last week revealed robust growth in Q4 revenues and cashflow – the latter boosted by the integration of AT&T Broadband which it acquired for $47 billion (€43.59bn; £29.69bn) last November.

Comcast, America’s largest cable group, was also confident about prospects for 2003, based on good and improving subscriber inflow and lower than budgeted capital expenditure. One entrail-raker, at least, was complimentary.

“Comcast is the leader, and how it does affects the health of the industry,” said Merrill Lynch’s Jessica Reif Cohen, reputedly a cable industry specialist. She opined that that Comcast's performance will reassure investors that the cable sector can stave off the aggressive incursions being made into its customer base by the satellite industry.

Paradoxically, Cohen’s current gung-ho utterings are based on her spectacularly bad guesses for Q4 – for which she predicted a net gain of only 1,000 new Comcast subscribers instead of the 40,600 it actually achieved – an error ratio of over forty to one. Her fly-blown crystal ball also foresaw that A&T Broadband would lose 77,000 subscribers rather than the 49,700 it actually shed.

What verdict, some onlookers ask, would Merrill’s oracle deliver on a cable company chief executive whose judgements were as flawed?

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff