Baseball deal lifts stocks
Fox, vendor Aramark see stocks rise; brewers and baseball banker also trading higher.
August 30, 2002: 4:00 PM EDT
By Chris Isidore, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The eleventh-hour labor settlement to avoid a baseball strike lifted more than fans' spirits -- it gave a boost to stocks of a few companies with relationships to the game.

Broadcaster Fox Entertainment Group Inc. had perhaps the largest exposure of any company. It has paid about $400 million to broadcast nationally-televised games this year, with most of that money for showing postseason games, including the World Series.

Shares of Fox (FOX: up $0.40 to $22.33, Research, Estimates) gained almost 3 percent, with most of that gain following the announcement of a deal just before noon. Media conglomerate News Corp. (NWS: up $0.04 to $21.49, Research, Estimates), which owns 85 percent of Fox's stock, also got a slight lift.

The baseball contract is a money loser for Fox, and a refund from baseball that the elimination of the postseason entailed would have stemmed those losses. But that check would not have come until next year.

"I don't think it would have been the end of the world for Fox if there had been a strike," said David Miller, media and entertainment analyst for Sanders, Morris and Harris in Los Angeles. "But Fox would have lost an effective platform from which to promote new shows. And you have a lot of big market teams possibly in the playoffs, which would help stations' profits."

In addition, its regional sports network had contracts with 25 of the 30 major league teams to show some of their regular season games. Miller said that unit could have actually seen a slight short-term bump by not having the expense of airing those games, but still collecting subscriber fees from cable systems. But next year, when ratings for those games would have been likely to take a hit, the strike would have hurt that unit's results as well.

Food and concession vendor Aramark Corp., which serves 13 major league stadiums, got one of the larger lifts to its stock after the late-morning announcement. The nation's largest food service company had limited exposure to a possible work stoppage. It said it saw its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, fall about 3 percent as a result of the 1994-95 players strike that eliminated the 1994 World Series. Amanda Stepper, analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities, estimated that the earnings per share could have been off 3 cents in the current fiscal fourth quarter, and 3 to 5 cents a share next year if a strike had ended the season this year and caused a backlash by fans next year.

"It's tough to say what the market was worried about," she said. "Baseball only accounts for low single digits in terms of the company's overall revenue. But the stock is thinly traded. I'm not surprised it got a lift on the news."

Does the avoidance of a baseball strike make you
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Adam Weald, analyst with Lehman Brothers, said that he agreed the short-term risk to Aramark's results from a strike were small -- maybe $91 million in revenue and 2 cents a share in earnings for the current quarter. But he also said the negative attention to Aramark from a strike could have hurt the stock more than mere fundamentals suggested.

"From a sentiment standpoint, there had been increased investor nervousness over risk of a baseball strike," he said. "There's no question it was an issue top of mind for a few institutional investors, and for some retail investors."

Shares of Aramark (RMK: up $0.89 to $22.69, Research, Estimates) were up almost 4 percent in afternoon trading, with much of the lift coming after the announced labor agreement.

Stepper said she may adjust her fiscal first quarter EPS estimates up a penny or two depending on how the teams that Aramark serves do in baseball's postseason. Six of the teams -- the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels -- still have a shot at capturing spots in baseball's eight-team postseason playoffs.

There had been threats by baseball ownership that some teams could be forced to file for bankruptcy protection if there had been another strike, particularly a prolonged strike. Baseball leadership had decried the game's debt levels, which have grown to an estimated $3.5 billion. Baseball's primary banker, FleetBoston Financial Corp. (FBF: down $0.10 to $24.11, Research, Estimates) also saw its stock higher after the announcement before slipping in late afternoon trading.

Beer brewers' stocks were also up on the day, but little changed since the midday announcement. Bear Stearns analyst Carlos Laboy estimated earlier in the week that if the rest of the regular season and the postseason had been lost to a strike, it could have meant about 182,500 fewer barrels of beer sold, and reduced overall industry profit by about $2.7 million. But that would have only dropped the earnings of No. 1 brewer Anheuser-Busch Co. (BUD: up $0.70 to $53.16, Research, Estimates) and No. 2 brewer SABMiller PLC by about a tenth of a cent, and No. 3 brewer Adolph Coors & Co. (RKY: Research, Estimates) by about 1 cent a share.  Top of page

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