CBS Stock Falls 3% In Early Trading As Les Moonves News Sinks In

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CBS shares are down almost 4% today as investors fully digest the news about Les Moonves departing the company under a cloud.

Moonves and CBS announced his exit yesterday after allegations of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women. Shares in CBS have dropped about 3.5% to $54.15, on average trading volume. That’s a turnaround from gains last Thursday and Friday as Wall Street appeared to cheer the dark clouds on the verge of being taken away. As the news has sunk in, plus the potential liabilities from the weekend New Yorker article detailing more allegations, sentiment has cooled.

In a research report, analyst Doug Creutz of Cowen & Co. said he was raising his 12-month price target from $50 to $58 “to reflect the at least temporary elimination of some of the worse-case scenarios.” But the fact that Moonves’ interim successor, COO Joe Ianniello, is so closely allied with Moonves that there could be issues in terms of company culture. That leaves a big question mark looming over the company.

More concerning to Creutz is the two-year damper on M&A that National Amusements chief Shari Redstone agreed to. “The hiatus certainly does nothing to dispel the notion that the Redstones intend to recombine the two companies,” Creutz wrote, “leaving the existing overhang on CBS shares mostly unchanged in our view. We continue to think a recombination would have to be handled very carefully or risk a difficult integration.”

Barton Crockett of B. Riley considers the net takeaway to be positive for CBS shareholders. He gives the company a good chance of continuing to put up good financials without Moonves. “What we have seen of other TV network groups rocked by #metoo (Roger Ailes/Bill O’Reilly at Fox News, Matt Lauer at NBC News) is that strong performance can continue even when a vaunted, tainted star departs,” he wrote. “These groups have deep talent pools. Indeed, if there’s any truth to allegations, it’s probably helpful to change leadership and address the wounds. A positive here for CBS is that this is now happening quickly and not dragging out.”

Rich Greenfield of BTIG, who has clashed often with CBS brass, issued a damning take on the events of the weekend. “Ianniello protected Moonves for years, had a similar focus on short-term cheerleading actions versus real long-term strategy, and was overpaid for years for his support of Moonves,” he wrote. He expects Ianniello to exit in the next 90 days. “We would expect a new permanent CBS CEO to be appointed; feels likely it will come from outside CBS’ current executive ranks. We also expect significant changes in the executive suite beyond Moonves and Ianniello, especially at CBS Investor Relations and Corporate Communication – given the worrisome behavior we have observed from each over the past two years.”

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