CBS' Les Moonves reassures stockholders

Says stocks, ad market rebounding

CBS Corp. shares were overly punished during the recession, but they will continue to rise as the economy strengthens, president and CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday.

Speaking in New York at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, Moonves pointed out that the stock already had doubled from its low point this year. “As the economy improves, our stock price will too,” he said.

He also reiterated recent comments about a stabilizing economy and advertising market.

“We believe we have seen the bottom of the downturn” and things will get better as the year unfolds, Moonves said.

“We are seeing early signs of improvement in the advertising marketplace, both in local and national,” the CEO told shareholders.

But he cautioned, “It’s too soon to call it a full-blown recovery.”

Beyond improved ad trends, CBS financials during second-half 2009 will benefit from strong syndication titles and a lower cost structure that the firm has implemented during the recession, Moonves said.

Controlling shareholder and chairman Sumner Redstone called 2008 “a challenging year” for CBS because of the economy but also predicted the firm will outperform its peers during the recovery. “And it is recovering, bit by bit,” Redstone said.

Also in attendance Tuesday was Redstone’s daughter Shari, who sits on the CBS board.
Among the investor questions, shareholder activist Evelyn Davis asked why CBS hasn’t launched a financial news channel.

“We have explored it,” Moonves replied. “Right now the market is way too crowded.”

He also pointed to the company’s online offerings in the financial space.