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Many Hollywood stocks that lost ground in 2020 have enjoyed gains through the first three quarters of this year thanks to an advertising revenue rebound and the reopening of the economy after the coronavirus pandemic, including in the cinema sector.
But some big entertainment names are battling streaming- and deal-related overhangs that have left them below their 2020 closing prices as trading wrapped Friday, the first day of the final quarter of the year.
Take the Walt Disney’s stock, one of the big outperformers last year, which is down just under 1 percent year-to-date, as it ended Friday at $176.01 after closing out 2020 at $181.18 and trading above the $200 mark in March. The reason for a recent pullback: investor concerns about recent management commentary about lower-than-expected streaming subscriber growth.
Streaming questions are also in focus for Discovery investors following its mega-deal in May to merge with AT&T’s WarnerMedia, Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall notes. “Discovery shares have languished since announcing the deal, and we think visibility into the streaming strategy is a key overhang,” Cahall wrote in a Wednesday report. As of Friday’s market close, Discovery’s stock was down 16 percent for the year to close Friday at $25.74, with AT&T’s down 7.7 percent at $27.17.
Other entertainment industry stocks are starting the final period of the year in positive territory though, although only a few are currently outpacing the 17.7 percent jump in the broad-based S&P 500 stock index through the end of this week.
Among them are two smaller entertainment companies, whose stocks often rise on rumblings about potential acquisitions by players. AMC Networks recently saw long-time CEO Josh Sapan move to the executive vice chairman role, reigniting deal chatter, followed by COO Ed Carroll announcing his exit at the end of the year. AMC Networks is up 33 percent at the nine month stage of 2021 after closing on Friday at $47.34. And Lionsgate, long seen as a potential deal party, has climbed 28.5 percent so far this year to $14.77.
Another top entertainment sector gainer so far in 2021 is Fox Corp., which analysts have been high on in part due to bets on the fast-growing sports gambling business. Its shares were 41.5 percent higher for the year as of Friday’s market close at $40.78.
No industry stock has had the kind of run this year though that exhibition giant AMC Theatres has seen; it is currently 1,813 percent ahead of its 2020 closing price of $2.12, having ended the trading day on Friday at $38.46. The exhibition stock has been helped by its status as a meme stock, meaning a stock that a stock that has gone viral and attracted the attention of retail investors, similar to video gaming retailer GameStop.
Other movie theater stocks, whose financials and liquidity had been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, have also grown year-to-date despite the delta variant of the coronavirus causing some film slate reshuffles and investor questions, but not as much as AMC Theatres. Analysts pointed to Disney’s recent news that its remaining six films on its 2021 release calendar would have at least a 30-day exclusive theatrical window before becoming available on Disney+ as one positive for cinema stocks. As of the end of the trading week, Cinemark has recorded a 23.3 percent gain so far in 2021 to $19.92, and Imax is up 12 percent to $19.71, for example.
Meanwhile, global streaming giant Netflix seems to have, for now at least, overcome investor worries about increased competition and weaker subscriber trends after a strong pandemic boost. Its stock was up 17.2 percent year-to-date after ending Friday at $613.15 and on Thursday reaching an all-time high of $619.
Evercore ISI analyst Mark Mahaney in early September reiterated his “outperform” rating on Netflix’s stock and boosted his price target to $695, citing “a very robust content slate” and arguing: “Netflix shares have broken out to an all-time-high following a second-quarter earnings ‘clearing event,’ and we see further upside.”
And Guggenheim’s Michael Morris raised his Netflix price target from $600 to $685 in a Friday report entitled “‘Squid Game’ Another Scary Example of Netflix’s Powerful Global Content Machine.” In it, he highlighted the success of South Korean original series Squid Game after Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said at a recent conference that there was “a very good chance it’s going to be our biggest show ever.” Wrote Morris: “We believe that the global popularity of South Korean-sourced Squid Game is indicative of the unique value proposition that Netflix brings to content creators and consumers around the world.”
Entertainment and technology giant Sony Corp. can also be happy about stock growth this year, recording a gain of 16 percent so far in 2021 to 12,085 yen on Friday. It also got strong support on Monday from Cowen analyst Doug Creutz who started coverage of the company with an “outperform” rating, calling the company an “underappreciated entertainment powerhouse” whose stock “unfairly trades at a discount to underlying value due to low-merit concerns about conglomeratization.”
Another conglomerate, pay TV and entertainment giant Comcast, meanwhile, remains 13.3 percent higher for the year so far to $57.21 on Oct. 1, but has seen a recent pullback like most pay TV distributors. “Cable and satellite stocks have underperformed the S&P both year-to-date and quarter-to-date, with the exception of Dish, with the most recent pullback following the bearish commentary on broadband add momentum,” Cowen analyst Gregory Williams wrote in a Wednesday report.
Indeed, Comcast’s CFO recently signaled that broadband subscriber growth had slowed as of late, while Altice USA’s CEO forecast a third-quarter drop in broadband customers. “We do not believe the broadband slowdown is driven by competitive … threats, nor any notable erosion of fundamentals, but rather a refinement of the pull-through impact following the unprecedented pandemic strength,” Williams said.
CFRA Research analyst Tuna Amobi tells THR that there have been some positive business trends boosting investor confidence in various media and entertainment sector stocks this year. “The recovery of the media and entertainment industry from the pandemic thus far has been led by a relatively robust advertising rebound, potentially on pace in 2021 to surpass its pre-pandemic level,” he explains.
But Amobi also highlights that “media sub-sectors that rely on out-of-home experience (theaters, theme parks, live sports, concerts etc.) have been somewhat hobbled” at times by the spread of the delta variant, “raising the specter of a protracted recovery that could stretch through 2022, potentially into 2023.”
All that explains the “disparate” trends in media and entertainment stocks thus far in 2021, with “individual companies’ portfolio composition and their competitive positioning, as well as the strength of their balance sheets in the post-pandemic era” all playing a role, the analyst explains.
In terms of Wall Street debates about entertainment stocks, Disney’s near-term outlook has been a particularly hot topic among analysts. Wells Fargo’s Steven Cahall cut his stock price target by $13 to $203 on Tuesday, citing a streaming subscriber “reset” after Disney CEO Bob Chapek recently signaled weaker-than-expected streaming subscriber growth in the third calendar quarter of 2021. That “has cast a spotlight on what it will take for Disney to reach fiscal year 2024 subscriber guidance,” he argued. “We think investors now have some causes for concern, but if the content pipeline ramps up as planned, then we believe guidance remains achievable.”
MoffettNathanson’s Michael Nathanson similarly wrote: “Rightly or wrongly, as we have seen with Netflix, we think that the market’s singular focus on subscriber data is a double-edged sword that becomes overly reactive to both small sub beats and small sub misses.” I
Meanwhile, Macquarie Capital analyst Tim Nollen wrote in a recent report that Disney has also “underperformed year-to-date amid short-term headwinds at parks and box office” due to the delta variant. But Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne in a Friday report stuck to his “overweight” rating and confidence on Disney, writing: “Despite significant continued upward earnings revisions, shares have lagged as net adds expectations ran ahead of content deliveries. As the content pipeline builds into ’22 and ’23, core net adds should accelerate, driving shares.”
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