Cable TV Dead? Like Telephone Landlines, It’s Threatened – an Investor’s Guide
The new math doesn’t look good for cable companies, as television viewers discover that adding together streaming subscriptions from places like Netflix (NFLX), Hulu Plus and Amazon.com (AMZN) equals about the same entertainment for a third of cable’s price. Pay TV subscriptions are beginning to look a little like landline telephones, another problematic cable company service. So why are cable company stocks suddenly so popular?
Turns out that the cable companies are offering a couple of things that are in great demand these days: decent dividends, for investors, and broadband connections for everyone.
Comcast (CMCSA) raised its dividend 44% in February, and Time Warner Cable’s (TWC) went up more than 16% then. Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC) hasn’t raised its dividend since early last year, but its dividend yield is a nice 3.85%. Yields for all of these companies are better than the 1.7% yield on the 10-year Treasury now.
Charter Communications (CHTR) doesn’t pay a dividend, but its share price is running up with the big boys because of big gains in Internet services sales. Having emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 and still reporting losses, Charter remains a turnaround play rather than a yield-seeker’s prospect. But like its cable competitors, revenues gains from higher margin, high-speed Internet connections are helping make up for television and landline subscriber losses.
Among the three dividend payers, fundamentals remain pretty ugly, and prospects for earnings in non-internet businesses look grim. YCharts Pro gives Time Warner and Cablevision avoid ratings for weak fundamentals. Cablevision is rated neutral. Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) are horning in on their customers. The competition for programming rights is coming from so many directions now that costs there are going up.
Still, it’s hard to get too worked up about the companies’ abilities to afford rising dividends. On both payout ratios (based on earnings) and cash ratios, Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision look like they can well-afford the expense.
It’s also possible that a lot of cable subscribers won’t do the math for a long time. Or perhaps the first-run programming, live sports and bundles with Internet service and telephones will keep customers paying for a long time. (The Wall Street Journal explains here why pay TV may be around for a while yet.) After all, even landline telephones aren’t dead yet.