Bill fails, so Street bails

Showbiz 50 stocks hit even harder than battered Dow, S&P, Nasdaq

Wow. That was painful. The U.S. stock market suffered one of the worst days in its history Monday — and judging from what fell hardest, you'd think the teetering economy is the fault of entertainment companies instead of shenanigans at financial institutions.

The Dow had its biggest one-day point drop ever, but The Hollywood Reporter Showbiz 50 fared even worse.

The S&P 500 suffered through its worst day in 21 years and the Nasdaq its worst in eight years. Still, both outperformed the struggling Showbiz 50.

What crushed stocks not only here but abroad was the decision by House lawmakers to reject the $700 billion bailout of economically shaky mortgage and financial companies. Coincidentally, the resulting selloff wiped about $700 billion in value from the S&P 500.

Leading the Showbiz 50 down was Dish Network (-19%), which had its own negative catalyst to deal with. Its competitor, DirecTV, said Monday that it will become AT&T's partner after a similar Dish-AT&T relationship ends Jan. 31.

That bit of news should be good for DirecTV, but that stock fell 11%.

Dish's plunge marked a 52-week low, but it's not a very exclusive club. Also falling to new lows were Sirius XM Radio, Apple, Sinclair Broadcasting, Google, Yahoo, Electronic Arts, News Corp., Time Warner and CBS.

While the vaunted "staycation" phenomenon is supposed to help entertainment companies weather the economic storms, weak advertising sales are more powerful than theories about Americans watching movies and television more now that they can't afford expensive outings.

"First magazines and now the TV scatter market weakened," Steve Birenberg of Northlake Capital Management said. "The last leg of the ad stool is finally wobbling, reinforcing negative sentiment toward media stocks as a group."

At the other end Monday, some of the most beaten-down media stocks outperformed the broader markets, including newspaper companies and radio players Cumulus Media (up 6%) and Entercom Communications (up fractionally).

That some of the year's big decliners performed well on such a dismal day might be the result of shorts covering their positions, said Dennis Leibowitz of Act II Partners, a media-focused hedge fund.

Leibowitz also posits that, in order to buy out their short positions, they may have had to sell the "good stocks," such as Disney and Time Warner, helping those stocks fall big time Monday.

Leibowitz also notes that Cumulus and Entercom are benefiting from stock buybacks.

Only four stocks from the Showbiz 50 rose Monday, led by Carmike Cinemas, up 23% to $4.49 on no news.

Some other outperformers — though still falling — were DreamWorks Animation, Regal Entertainment and Marvel Entertainment.

Analyst Drew Crum of Stifel Nocolaus rates all three a "hold," but he likes DWA and Marvel over the long haul.

Marvel, though, only has one licensed movie coming out in 2009, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," and DWA has only "Monsters vs. Aliens" next year.

"My fear is the stocks will get complacent," Crum said. "Longer term, I really like the content of both, and good content wins the day."

Eventually. But on Monday, it was nearly impossible to find shares of a TV or movie content company that had risen. (partialdiff)