World Wrestling Entertainment shares were body slammed today after investors overlooked stronger-than-expected Q3 earnings and focused instead of disappointing guidance for Q4 and 2016.
The stock is down 12.6% in afternoon trading. That’s a blow, but far from a knockout considering that the company’s up 43.7% so far in 2015.
Buyers are encouraged by the growth of the WWE Network subscription streaming service, seen as a bellwether for other content owners interested in establishing a direct-to-consumer business. WWE Network had more than 1.2 million paid subscribers at the end of September, a 7% increase from the June quarter.
Revenues at $166.2 million were well ahead of analyst forecasts for $151.9 million. Earnings per share, at 14 cents, also clobbered expectations for 9 cents. Net income at $10.4 million contrasts with a $5.9 million loss in the same period last year.
“Our solid earnings growth for the quarter was driven primarily by the increase in WWE Network subscribers, the escalation of our television rights fees, as well as higher effective ticket prices at our live events” says Chief Strategy & Financial Officer George Barrios. “Key metrics, such as the record attendance at our SummerSlam events, viewership of our original content, and social media presence demonstrate the increasing strength of our WWE brands, which are the foundation of our long-term growth.”
The short term picture is more troublesome, though. WWE says that its paid online subscriptions will be flat in Q4. It also projected cash flow of between $4 million and $8 million, well below Street expectations for $17 million.
Next year’s forecast also disappointed. The company didn’t offer guidance for WWE Network subscriptions citing “the inherent uncertainty of this nascent and growing business.” If it does as well as Netflix did in the early years of its streaming service then “management would characterize an annual growth rate of 20% to 25% for WWE Network as very strong performance,” the company says.
It adds that revenues could grow as much as 10% next year with cash flow of $90 million to $100 million.
The sub comparison with Netflix “was best case scenario, in our view,” Benchmark Co’s Mike Hickey says. And the cash flow forecast was “meaningfully below our estimates.”
FBN Securities Robert Routh, who launched his coverage of WWE last week with an “outperform” rating, says the stock “should be up not down on the [Q3] results.” That makes today’s downturn “a real opportunity” for buyers.