Starz Stock Hits All-Time High

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Starz CEO Chris Albrecht

The premium TV company, led by CEO Chris Albrecht, posted better-than-expected quarterly earnings before the market open, and its shares crossed the $40 mark for the first time since its early 2013 market debut.

Starz's stock hit all-time highs on Thursday after the premium TV company reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings

The stock went as high as $41.22 in early trading. Before Thursday, it had never crossed the $40 mark. As of 11 a.m. ET, Starz shares, which made their market debut in Jan. 2013 after its spinoff from Liberty Media, were up 3.4 percent at $39.90 in a down market, given the company a market value of $3.7 billion.

Starz, led by CEO Chris Albrecht, drew positive Wall Street reviews for the better-than-thought latest earnings report. "Sub growth continues, margins solidly ahead," summarized Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne, who has an "overweight" rating on the stock. "Distribution segment [was] well ahead, with SVOD library deals highlighting the value of rising content ownership."

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Benjamin Mogil wrote in a report: "Starz's first-quarter results were well ahead of our and consensus expectations as the core channels segment led the outperformance on in-line revenue and lower programming costs, while an SVOD license for older originals, notably Spartacus, aided overall results." He maintained his "hold" rating on the stock, saying he would update his estimates following the earnings call.

Evercore ISI Media analyst David Joyce wrote: "Starz had a positive first quarter on a number of fronts — greater flagship Starz network subscribers than expected (although Encore subs slipped again); incremental content licensing deals internationally and on digital platforms, which drove greater distribution revenue and [operating cash flow] than expected; and the launch of the international OTT strategy in the Middle East and Africa."

He added: "Starz should continue to grow its subscriber base modestly due to the franchise's original programming strategy, but the Encore subscriber base growth continues to face challenges in an era of so many platforms providing older library content."

Twitter: @georgszalai