For Time Warner investors, a possible winner

Posted: February 15, 2014

So you wake to discover that Comcast Corp. is buying Time Warner Cable Inc. for $45.2 billion and think: Whoa, how can I get a piece of that action?

Well, you can still jump in, albeit a bit late and at a risk, and possibly see some benefit from investing in either company, according to analysts.

Of course, it is best if you already had some skin in the game, owning stock in either company, but especially Time Warner Cable.

"Let's start with the obvious here: The big winner is Time Warner Cable," wrote analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson in a report to investors. That's because Comcast is offering about $159 for each share of Time Warner stock - nearly $27 more per share than was offered by rival Charter Communications.

"For a stock that was trading below $100 when this all began, that's pretty heady," Moffett wrote.

Wrote Amy Yong, an analyst with the Macquarie Group: "The deal gives [Time Warner Cable] shareholders the opportunity to own roughly 25 percent of [the combined companies] and leave Time Warner Cable in the hands of a management team with a proven operational track record."

As Time Warner Cable was trading at about $145 (up about 7 percent) for most of Thursday, there remain opportunities for investors, if the deal does not come undone or is not altered as a result of regulatory issues.

As for Comcast, at first blush, investors were not happy with the deal: shares fell about 4 percent, trading around $53.

One reason was that Comcast is creating stock to purchase Time Warner Cable, diluting the value of its current shares. However, the company predicts $1.5 billion in "operating efficiencies" that would more than offset that dilution.

Tom Clancy, vice president for research at the Philadelphia Trust Co., said it seemed reasonable that Comcast would benefit from the clout it will garner by swallowing Time Warner Cable and winding up with in excess of 30 million cable-TV subscribers. That will give it increased leverage in negotiating prices with content providers, ultimately reducing its costs, Clancy said.

That should accrue to shareholders further down the line, he said.

Dave Novosel, an analyst with Gimme Credit, agreed that the long-term synergies of the deal could benefit stockholders, although he saw it as "slightly negative" in the short term because of the dilution of shares.

Much hinges on how regulators view the deal.

"A deal may face a fierce battle in Washington, as you are merging the two largest cable operators," wrote Tony Wible, an analyst for Janney Capital Markets. "Clearly there is a solid argument to be made that the deal: 1) helps consumers by keeping programming costs in check, 2) does not change the competitive environment, given that the two do not compete today . . .."

Wible rated Comcast a "buy" with a fair-value estimate of $59.50.


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