Media Stocks Tank in U.S. After Brexit Vote

Getty Images

Among the seven conglomerates, $20 billion in value was wiped out on Friday, and of the 50 entertainment/media stocks tracked by THR, one closed higher.

Wall Street had one of its worst days in years on Friday after the U.K. voted in favor of Brexit, a referendum to remove itself from the European Union, a surprise decision that had investors heading for the exits and pundits predicting doom and gloom.

"The Brexit as catalyst could likely be the turning point that will trigger a financial market crash in the U.S. and in global markets in parallel," Thomas Kee Jr. wrote at MarketWatch, a unit of News Corp's Dow Jones.

Others on Friday were focusing more narrowly on the entertainment companies. Rick Munarriz at the Motley Fool, for example, predicted Disney theme parks in Florida will take a hit, given that 1.7 million visitors to that state came from the U.K. last year and Friday's vote had the pound plunging relative to the dollar.

"When it costs 8 percent more to purchase things in the U.S. — overnight — it does force folks to reconsider their vacation plans," Munarriz wrote. "Tack on the political and economic unrest that's bound to follow in the U.K. and suddenly that trip to Disney World becomes a stay-cation."

In Friday's dismal action, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 611 points, or 3.4 percent, while the Nasdaq was off 4.1 percent and S&P 500 fell 3.6 percent.

Of the seven media conglomerates, three fared better than the Dow: Comcast fell 2.1 percent on Friday, Disney was off 3.3 percent and Time Warner was down 3.2 percent.

Hurt most was 21st Century Fox, which saw its shares sink 7.7 percent, followed by Viacom (down 5.8 percent), Sony (down 4.8 percent) and CBS (down 3.8 percent).

Among the seven conglomerates, $20 billion in value was wiped out on Friday, and of the 50 entertainment/media stocks tracked by The Hollywood Reporter, one closed higher on Friday: Regal Entertainment Group, the movie exhibition company, was up 8 cents to $20.66.

Of those 50, Fox fell the hardest, followed by Discovery Communications, down 7.2 percent. Discovery has a strong presence in the U.K. and, unlike most companies, issued a statement about the Brexit vote.

"We will work closely with U.K. and EU leaders to successfully navigate this change and find new opportunities to shape our future," read the statement. "In the short term and medium term, our currency hedging program will significantly minimize the impact of the Brexit vote on our financial performance."

In fact, how much impact Brexit will have to the bottom lines of the entertainment and media companies is still to be seen (and could be rather minimal) but uncertainty and the mere prospect of a worldwide economic downturn was enough to sink them on Friday.

Other significant movers included Netflix (down 3.5 percent), Nielsen (off 4.8 percent), Lionsgate (off 5.1 percent), Dish Network (off 5.4 percent), Time (down 5.7 percent), News Corp (off 6.2 percent) and ComScore (down 7.2 percent).

Media stocks were more volatile Friday than were stocks of other industries because they have been considered "risk-off" stocks ever since Disney said 10 months ago that ESPN was losing subscribers, a revelation tanked the entire sector, says Steven Birenberg of Northlake Capital Management.

"The companies do have a cyclical element — at least any companies where a significant portion of revenue comes from Advertising," Birenberg says. "Brexit appears to be feeding political instability and uncertainty that could cause a global economic slowdown, thus, cyclical exposure is sold."

Plus, one thing helping the shares of media companies has been the probability of consolidation, and the uncertainty brought by Brexit could make executives hesitant about taking on M&A risk, says Birenberg.