A lot of people are scratching their heads about AMC Networks this morning. Its just-released financial report for Q4 showed that it beat Wall Street expectations for revenues and profits. But the devil’s always in the details — and after taking a closer look at the numbers, investors drove AMC’s stock price down more than 6% in midday trading.
What accounts for the disconnect? To put it simply, although AMC did well in the quarter, it beat analysts’ targets through improvements in interest expenses, tax outlays, and a “miscellaneous” gain — not just from the strong performance of its operations.
That’s a big deal as investors try to determine whether new shows such as Better Call Saul and Into The Badlands can generate enough profit to compensate for the modest declines in AMC’s biggest money maker: The Walking Dead.
Indeed, this quarter could be “a turning point” for those following the company, Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger says. “While most media investor concerns have been focused primarily on the top line,” now “the operating expense line becomes equally important.” Although “advertising is strong,” the networks “seem to be having to spend more and more to capture it.”
MoffettNathanson Research’s Michael Nathanson says that he thought AMC might beat his projection for 14% year-over-year improvement in domestic ad sales. But “for the first time in a while, that wasn’t the case,” as the company delivered 13.4% growth.
Juenger also wonders whether AMC’s modest subscriber loss in Q4 might come back to haunt the company. The year-end period is “a seasonally strong quarter for net adds.” the analyst says. “Fasten your seatbelts for what that number will look like in Q2.”
Executives dealt with some of these concerns today in their quarterly conference call with analysts. CEO Josh Sapan says that is company is “as strong as we can be in terms of having content that matters a lot.”
That should pay off as cable, satellite and online distributors experiment with skinny bundles — though the CEO says that many industry watchers are overhyping the trend. Although “we don’t know what will happen,” for now “there’s a perception that this is occurring when it is not.”
As for the drop in subscriptions, based on Nielsen’s count, Sapan declined to echo criticisms of the ratings company voiced by others including Disney. The firm’s numbers are “a reasonably good representation of what we’ve seen over time.”
The company says that it’s optimistic about the ad market for 2016 and expects fees it collects from cable and satellite companies to increase by a mid- to high-single-digit percentage this year.