Needham & Company analyst Laura Martin today downgraded her recommendation on New Corp from “buy” to “hold.” The company has set aside millions of dollars to prep itself for lawsuits in the scandal’s wake, but Martin told Reuters she didn’t think it was enough. News Corp shares have lost almost 14% of their value since the investigation began in July. Today, shares closed down 5 cents to $15.51.
But not all media analysts feel that way. BTIG’s Rich Greenfield thinks News Corp is an inexpensive stock right now, and he issued a “buy” recommendation and raised his 12-month price target for the company’s stock price to $24:
Particularly when put in the context of its double digit earnings growth (with only 12% of operating income from publishing assets in fiscal June 2012). The question is only what will an increasingly “mature” News Corp. do with its strong free cash flow ($3.5-$4.0 billion annually) and an underleveraged balance sheet (ended fiscal 2011 at 0.5x leverage). With News Corp now ‘cash rich’ following the build-up of cash to finance BSkyB, investors are concerned that the company will find a way to destroy shareholder value through large-scale, non-core acquisitions.
News Corp has committed to buying back $5 billion of stock during fiscal (June) 2012. A $5 billion buyback is something virtually every investor wanted the company to do prior to the BSkyB acquisition attempt (in 2010). However, nobody believed the company would ever do it, principally because they did not think Rupert believed in returning capital to shareholders (regardless of what his top executives wanted).
We believe News Corp. management recognizes that they are better at building than buying (as is most of the media sector, which spends too much time listening to investment bankers who try to excite them with strategic / “growth” acquisitions). As a result, we expect News Corp. to shy away from multi-billion acquisitions in the next couple of years.
Investors worry about the “unknown” impact of the continuing investigation into the News Of The World phone hacking scandal. While there is no way to assess ultimate impact, News Corp has taken a legal reserve in their fiscal year end financials and more importantly, News Corp.’s operating businesses have not been impacted by the NOTW events (beyond the closure of NOTW itself).
We believe the only way for News Corp. to achieve our $24 price target is by consistently buying back stock and simply not making poor ROI multibillion dollar acquisitions. It is all about restoring investor confidence day by day. We believe this is the path management will follow.