In the media world, Nielsen Nielsen Holdings (NYSE:NLSN) is like the weather: Everyone has an opinions about it. And while it’s a stock that’s tough to love, for patient investors it may be worth getting to know. That’s especially true now that it plans to acquire Arbitron Holdings for $1.26 billion, giving marketers one-stop shopping for information on TV and radio usage.
Antitrust regulators will likely approve the acquisition even though they’ll give it close scrutiny. It will make Nielsen even more valuable to advertisers as marketing spending ramps up with the improving U.S. economy.
Nielsen, which has headquarters in both the U.S. and the Netherlands, is more than just TV ratings, even though that business is doing pretty well. It’s also a player in online media.
The company is solidifying its position in social media with partnerships with Twitter and its recent acquisition of SocialGuide, a provider of social TV measurement, analytics and audience engagement info. Brands can determine the effectiveness of their digital campaigns with Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings, which has been used in more than 1,000 campaigns.
For instance, Nielsen provides a broad array of services to retailers and packaged-goods companies on issues such as consumer confidence and shopping habits. It also has gained insights into mobile usage by among other things analyzing the bills of more than 65,000 mobile subscribers in the U.S.
The Watch business, which includes TV ratings, has seen its revenue increase on average more than 4% since 2009. Nielsen’s Buy business, which provides services for retailers and packaged-good companies, grew more than 7% during that same time period.
Nielsen was taken private by six private equity firms in 2006 and the debt associated with that transaction has weighed down the stock since the company went public again in 2011. What many investors may not realize, however, is that Nielsen has been paying down its debt. As of Sept. 30 net debt was $6.07 billion, down from $6.27 billion in June. Buying Arbitron won’t change that because the radio ratings service has no debt. Neilsen’s net debt divided by adjusted EBITDA is now about 3.8x, which seems reasonable.
“It’s a good company,” says Brett Harriss, media analyst with Gabelli & Co., who doesn’t officially rate the stock. “It’s got a favorable competitive landscape and room to grow internationally.”
Revenue has grown at a compound annual growth rate of more than 5% since 2008, while adjusted EBITDA has surged on average 8.7% during that same time period. Those are hardly figures to brag about, but given the performance of most media and marketing companies since the Great Recession, it’s not too shabby.
Shares of Nielsen are up about 4% this year, even though the company recently sent mixed signals to Wall Street about its prospects. Management forecast revenue growth for the current fiscal year at the “low end” of its previously announced guidance, and it expects earnings per share of $1.82 to $1.84, better than the $1.81 Wall Street expected.
The tricky part about buying Nielsen’s stock is the timing. It trades at a multiple above 34, which means it’s not especially cheap, so it may be worth waiting for a pullback. Many on Wall Street, though, see better times ahead for it. The average 52-week price target is $34.38, almost 12% higher than where NLSN currently trades.
As of this writing, Jonathan Berr didn’t own any securities mentioned here. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr