Fox And Viacom Lead Media Stock Rally Sparked By Merger Speculation

AT&T Stock

On a day when the Dow 30, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq all posted modest declines, media stocks staged a rally fueled by a flurry of merger speculation, with Viacom and Fox seeing the biggest gains.

Viacom, a day removed from reporting mixed quarterly earnings and suffering further blows to its share price, had its stock shoot up more than 10% to finish at $26.15. 21st Century Fox, whose entertainment assets have been the subject of interest from Disney, Comcast and reportedly also Sony and Verizon, soared 6.5% to $30.48.

Others in positive territory included Discovery (up 5%), Lionsgate (up 5.5%), AMC (up 3%), and CBS and Time Warner, each up a fraction. The only notable exceptions to the positive trend were Comcast, which shed 2%, and Disney, off 16 cents. AT&T dropped just a penny.

With no news (at least for the moment) in the ongoing saga of AT&T’s sidetracked bid for Time Warner, analysts and investors have weighed in with wildly divergent reactions to the past 24 hours of deal reports and rumors. While Viacom CEO Bob Bakish tamped down speculation that Paramount Pictures could be scooped up by another media company, investors appear to see other options. Or perhaps just saw a deeply discounted stock and bought in as a value play. In the case of Fox, their entertainment of offers has added hundreds of millions of market value over the past few trading sessions, so the latest round can only help even if no deal ends up happening.

Tuna Amobi, an analyst with CFRA Research, upgraded Fox’s stock to a “buy” rating after Disney’s overtures became public and told Deadline that today’s surge shows that “a takeover premium is embedded in the stock price.” While the regulatory environment is suddently uncertain, he said Fox and whoever it partners with will find ways to array the assets. Plus, “the international portfolio is where the interest is,” meaning an easier time satisfying regulators.

Much will depend on the outcome–presumably in court–of AT&T-Time Warner. Until that matter is settled, many media observers see plenty of upside in traditional companies making their case for relevance and value as they are increasingly facing tech company competition. Today’s rally proves the short-term boost of such tactics.

Still, not everyone is convinced that we are entering a period of matchmaking. In fact, it’s worth recalling that 2017 began with free-market euphoria as President Donald Trump was elected. It is ending amid uncertainty and  In a note to clients yesterday, Wells Fargo’s Marci Ryvicker said of the Fox-Comcast reports, “We just don’t believe it. Period.” The chances of any “real deal” being completed, she added, are “exceedingly low, especially given the regulatory scrutiny over the pending AT&T-Time Warner deal.”

A Comcast-Fox transaction, for example, would raise alarms about horizontal overlap between film studios and TV operations–one reason BTIG’s Rich Greenfield argues that a spin-out of NBCUniversal is a realistic scenario. He went further, speculating in a note that “if the government does sue to block AT&T and Time Warner (or AT&T agrees to divest Turner or DirecTV) with the Comcast/NBCU consent decree expiring in September 2018, it is not far-fetched to think the government could try to break-up Comcast/NBCU in the future.”

With earnings season in the rear-view mirror and the holidays coming, there are few moments left in 2017 when public-company execs will hold forth publicly on strategy. UBS will host its 45th annual media conference Dec. 4-6, which surely will yield a few headlines. Until then, industry types will be trying to sort out the answer to the question: Who isn’t a buyer in today’s climate?

As Amobi put it, “All of this is going to come down to a question of scale, which is something every company wants.”

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