Big media is on fire this year. The success of stocks like Disney (DIS) and others has been so good, in fact, that they’ve received acclaim not just from the traditional Wall Street media outlets, but also industry publication The Hollywood Reporter, whose July issue detailed the success of big media companies in the first six months of 2013.
In fact, only one of seven — Comcast (CMCSA) — couldn’t best the S&P 500′s 10.3% gain through the first six months of the year.
But at some point, these hot-running stocks have to run out of gas … don’t they?
I think so … I just don’t think all of them will. Specifically, I think two will actually keep the party going, but two look ready to hit the wall.
Comcast has picked up the pace in the past month with a total return of 11%, better than all of the rest. As of July 16, it’s neck-and-neck with the S&P 500.
Historically, Comcast has wiped the floor with the index. In those years where it outperforms the index, it does so by a country mile. In the next two or three months, I expect the cable giant to pull away.
It all comes down to valuation. While merger mania appears to have gripped the cable and satellite industry, Comcast seemingly has been left out of the party. Steve Birenberg is a portfolio manager in Evanston, Ill., who specializes in media stocks. He believes Comcast is a $50 stock given its 8% free cash flow yield and conservative balance sheet.
In a recent article, Birenberg points out that Charter Communications (CHTR) — which is 25% owned by Liberty Media (LMCA) — has an enterprise value 9.6 times EBITDA, or about 18% higher than Comcast despite having one-sixth the subscribers. Even if Malone were able to buy Time Warner Cable (TWC), the merged entity would have a little more than half Comcast’s 25 million subscribers.
Throw in NBC, which generates 20% of Comcast’s annual cash flow, and you have a business that’s undervalued by at least 15% — probably more.
Time Warner (TWX) is up nearly 30% year-to-date — more than 10 percentage points higher than the S&P 500. So what has driven its stock, which sits less than 1% from its five-year high?
A big reason could be its plan to spin off Time Inc. and the rest of its magazines into a separate, independently operated business. In the first quarter, the publishing division generated an operating loss of $9 million on $736 million in revenue. It’s simply not producing the numbers necessary to remain part of Time Warner. Investors obviously feel a spinoff would be a case of addition by subtraction.
The publishing division’s CEO, Laura Lang, is stepping down once a successor is chosen. Lang is a veteran of the digital ad business; the new CEO needs to be a finance guy who can turn the magazines around. The Wall Street Journal speculates it could be Michael Klingensmith, the former CFO of Time Inc. and current CEO of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which he helped turnaround over the past three years.
Once the publishing division is no longer a distraction, it can expand into China using its partnership with China Media Capital — an investment fund focused on the media and entertainment sector in that country — as its entree.
The rest of Time Warner’s business is very healthy indeed.
Now, for the sells …