by Dan Burrows | August 7, 2014 1:45 pm
21st Century Fox (FOXA) shares rose sharply in morning trades after the media company posted better-than-expected results a day after withdrawing its bid for Time Warner (TWX) and announcing a $6 billion share repurchase program.
The market wasn’t too happy with 21st Century Fox pursuing rival Time Warner for $75 billion. FOXA stock lost as much as 11% in the weeks after news of its pursuit of TWX leaked out.
By that measure, Time Warner spurning 21st Century Fox was the best outcome for FOXA stock.
But, hey … pumping $6 billion into stock buybacks surely helped give FOXA stock that lift, too.
However, perhaps the biggest catalyst for the rally was that fiscal fourth-quarter earnings easily eclipsed analysts’ estimates, driven by record movie profits. 21st Century Fox beat Wall Street expectations by a very comfortable 4 cents a share, earnings 43 cents per share even as poor ratings hurt the broadcasting business.
Anyone holding FOXA stock should be very thankful for film franchises and the cable business, which now includes the YES Network.
“The company’s strong financial performance was driven by sustained affiliate revenue increases at our cable networks and record fourth quarter contributions at our filmed entertainment segment on the strength of global box office successes X-Men: Days of Future Past, Rio 2 and The Fault In Our Stars,” Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said in a press release.
Whether FOXA can replicate that success going forward is the great unknown for all media companies, especially with American Idol contributing to poor ratings and results at Fox Broadcasting. Indeed, television was the only division to report a year-over year decline in operating profit for the final quarter, hurt by lower ad sales.
American Idol and X-Factor are more than showing their ages. Replacing them is a crapshoot.
Record box-office receipts in the quarter also set 21st Century Fox up for tough comparisons at this time next year.
Hey, that’s how it goes with a hit-driven business.
That said, FOXA is swimming in cash, even after selling its satellite assets to BSkyB. The company expects to generate free cash flow in 2016 of $8.1 billion, down from $9 billion before the loss of the satellite contribution.
That bodes well for capital plans. There’s ample firepower left to buy back shares after the current authorization runs its course. And the meager dividend yield of 0.7% has plenty of room for a raise — 21st Century Fox has a payout ratio of just 18%.
One way or another, anyone holding FOXA stock can expect it to return even more cash to shareholders.
At the same time, FOXA stock gets no premium at all for its market-beating long-term growth. FOXA stock fetches 15.3 times forward earnings with a long-term growth forecast of the same amount. For comparison, the S&P 500 also trades at about 15.5 forward earnings, but analysts peg the market’s long-term growth at less than 10%.
On a relative basis, FOXA stock looks like a bargain … but that doesn’t automatically make it a buy.
It’s hard to believe Murdoch has really given up on Time Warner — not this quickly. He has a track record of pursuing targets for many years before making an offer they can’t refuse.
The TV division desperately needs new hits and box office is notoriously fickle, and 21st Century Fox can easily afford a deal that tops $80 billion.
Just don’t be surprised if the market punishes it for overpaying.
FOXA stock has been a volatile money-loser for most of the year. And with so much uncertainty from M&A to programming, it’s not going to get a higher multiple anytime soon.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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