The Iron Chef stock
Wall Street is treating E.W. Scripps like a sleepy newspaper publisher. But it's a more sexy growth story thanks to cable channels like the Food Network.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Bam! Allez Cuisine! EVOO.
These terms have all entered the pop culture lexicon thanks to the success of the Food Network. Energetic restaurant owner Emeril Lagasse and the oh-so-perky Rachael Ray (she's so cute) have attained celebrity status due to their presence on the popular network.
The cable channel, seen in about 89 million homes in the U.S., is a huge hit with gourmands and those who simply enjoy the surreal experience that is the original Japanese version of the "Iron Chef" cooking competition show. ("Fukui-san!")
But even though the Food Network is generating the type of buzz that is worthy of the best ratings in the Zagat or Michelin restaurant guides, investors have snubbed their nose at the channel's parent company, E.W. Scripps (Research).
The stock is trading near its 52-week low and has fallen about 7 percent so far in 2006.
Here's why Wall Street has it wrong.
Scripps' cable growth is good eats
Scripps is a hybrid media company. In addition to owning the Food Network and other lifestyle-oriented cable channels such as HGTV, DIY and Fine Living, it also has a newspaper division, with publications in 18 markets across the country.
That's right. Newspapers...the segment of the media business that has been perhaps hurt the most by the explosion in online media. Major newspaper stocks have been in the doldrums for the past year as investors worry about declining readership and sluggish advertising growth.
And Scripps hasn't been immune to the downturn. Scripps' newspaper business reported a 2 percent decrease in circulation sales last year and just a 3.5 percent increase in total revenue. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, sunk nearly 8 percent in 2005. (EBITDA is a commonly used measure of profitability in the media industry.)
But it's unfair for investors to treat Scripps as if it is just a boring newspaper publisher.
Sure, the newspaper business accounted for about 30 percent of sales last year and nearly a third of profits on an EBITDA basis.
What investors are missing though is that Scripps' cable business, especially the Food Network and HGTV, is generating tasty revenue and profit increases that would be the envy of many media companies.
Scripps' cable network unit posted a 25 percent increase in sales last year and 36 percent jump in EBITDA. The division is also Scripps' biggest unit, accounting for 36 percent of sales and 60 percent of the company's bottom line.
"Cable is doing great and Food Network is particularly doing well. There is no question about that," said Joe Bonner, an analyst with Argus Research. "You can't compare Scripps to other newspaper companies."
And the cable business is off to a hot start in 2006 as well. The company, which provides monthly sales totals to Wall Street, said that its networks division posted a 15 percent increase in revenue in January and 23 percent surge in sales in February.
More appetizing than other newspaper publishers
With that in mind, it's no wonder that analysts expect Scripps to report a revenue increase of 16 percent this year and profit increase of 10 percent, projected growth rates that are far higher than newspaper publishers such as Gannett (Research), Tribune (Research) and The New York Times (Research).
Scripps also has been a lot more active online than some of its rivals. The company bought comparison shopping service Shopzilla last year and followed that deal up with a purchase of U.K.-based online shopping site uSwitch earlier this month.
Bonner said that some investors are worried that Scripps may have overpaid for uSwitch, however, and that has weighed on the stock price. He added that investors also have concerns about the company's Shop at Home network, a competitor to QVC and the Home Shopping Network that has been losing money for some time.
But with the popularity of the Food Network and Scripps' other cable channels showing no signs of abating anytime soon, now looks like a good time to add Scripps stock to your financial menu. Bonner said that a fair value for the stock would be a price in the mid $50s, or about 20 percent higher than its current price of around $45.
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