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Cable Stocks Hit After Once Bullish Analyst Downgrades Sector

Deadline logo Deadline 6/20/2017 David Lieberman
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The party’s over for cable operator stocks, or soon will be, MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett says today in a report that downgraded the sector to “neutral.”

The shift from one of the Street’s most respected cable industry analysts contributed to a drop in all of the major players’ shares. Comcast is down 3.4%, Charter’s -2.2%, and Centurylink’s -2.6% in afternoon trading.

Moffett’s been one of cable’s most dependable bulls over a five year period when Comcast’s value tripled, and Charter has quadrupled.

But after years of defending cable’s near monopoly power to hang on to subscribers, he says that the market now is “arguably too complacent about cord cutting.”

The 2.5% drop in video subscriptions in Q1 is “likely to get worse before it gets better” as operators face intensifying competition from live streaming services including YouTubeTV and Hulu. They offer fewer channels than cable, for lower prices.

Moffett now predicts a 3% drop in cable, satellite, and telco video subscriptions in 2017, followed by drops of between 2.6% to 2.9% per year through 2020.

“The genie is unlikely to be put back in the bottle,” he says — even though none of the live streaming services “appears even remotely poised to make any money.”

That means cable operators will be “increasingly pressed to offer (and negotiate the rights to offer) skinnier bundles” that “are all but certain to carry lower gross profit dollars per subscription.”

Distributors won’t be able to compensate by raising rates for broadband.

Subscriber growth rates for broadband have slowed to 3% a year from 4%. “That may not sound like much of a change, but 25% fewer new subscribers up for grabs each year is a quite meaningful development,” Moffett says.

Nearly 80% of the population has broadband. And “most non-broadband households are lower income, elderly, high school educated or less, and most don’t own a computer.”

Operators can still raise broadband rates, he notes. But investors won’t want to make long term bets on companies that depend on “pricing rather than unit growth.”

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