The Best Stocks for 2011: Cablevision

This article is part of our "The Best Stocks of 2011" series, in which our Foolish writers pick their top investment ideas for the year ahead. Click here to see a review of last year's picks and all 12 recommendations for the year ahead.

Value investors will tell you that some of the best investments are found in industries so toxic, you'd need a hazmat suit just to take a closer look at their balance sheets.

You know the industries I'm talking about: Airlines. Consumer finance. Homebuilders. These stock market ghettos couldn't possibly be home to big winners, right? Wrong.

Company

Industry

CAPS Industry Rating (out of 5)

52-Week Return

US Airways Group (NYSE: LCC  ) Airlines ** 97.4%
CompuCredit (Nasdaq: CCRT  ) Consumer Finance ** 125.3%
M/I Homes (NYSE: MHO  ) Homebuilders ** 46.5%

Source: Capital IQ. Data current as of Dec. 27.

So with history on my side, I give you Cablevision (NYSE: CVC  ) as my choice for the best stock to own for the year ahead.

Why you should tune out
You've probably heard of Cablevision if you live in or are from New York. Controlled by the founding Dolan family, the company is a media conglomerate not unlike peers Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) .

Cablevision's business interests include classic cable and telephony service covering 5 million subscribers in the New York metropolitan area, Long Island's Newsday newspaper, and a small group of programming channels organized under its Rainbow Media Holdings subsidiary. Scared yet? Fools think you should be:

Metric

Cablevision

CAPS stars (out of 5) *
Total ratings 177
Percent bulls 55.4%
Percent bears 44.6%
Bullish pitches 16 out of 31
Highest rated peers RRSat Global Communications Network, Time Warner

Data current as of Dec. 27.

"On top of longer term worries all cables have regarding 'over the top' competition luring their subscribers off their pricey bundles, [Cablevision] has near term pain arising from its failure to negotiate a deal with News Corp. for carriage of Fox channels," wrote Foolish investor ThatBoo in October.

Why you should tune in
Bears are being too harsh. First, every cable and satellite company suffers channel negotiations. Second, Cablevision Chairman Chuck Dolan has spent more than 40 years building, acquiring, and selling media companies. He wouldn't let a content squabble kill his golden goose. (Fox and Cablevision settled their differences after a 15-day blackout in which Fox channels weren't available to Cablevision subscribers.)

Remember, Dolan helped bring cable TV to Manhattan in the first place. He also introduced the idea of premium programming with HBO. And from 1973 till today, he's been the guiding force behind Cablevision. Forbes estimates Dolan's wealth at $2.6 billion.

Expect that total to grow. Along with other shareholders, Dolan profited from Cablevision's distribution of its interest in Madison Square Garden (NYSE: MSG  ) to owners in February. His holdings now account for just more than 12% of MSG, whose interests include the New York Knicks basketball team and New York Rangers hockey team. (Booooooooo! Sorry, Islanders fan here.)

There's more than personal enrichment at work in the MSG deal. Cablevision is a more profitable company today than it was when Madison Square Garden's sports and entertainment properties were under its purview. Why? Last year, Cablevision's pre-tax profit margin on telecommunications services was five-and-a-half times greater than the comparable margin for its MSG unit.

Walking tall ... and Dead
Increased profitability makes Cablevision more attractive, especially when coupled with strong cash flows. Each year, the company generates from $700 million to $1 billion in free cash flow. Consistently.

This means that Cablevision has no trouble servicing its capital requirements, interest payments, and a dividend that yields 1.5%. Cablevision also has the capital to fund new projects that seem worthy.

The Walking Dead, a critically acclaimed AMC television series, debuted on Halloween to huge ratings. Based on a comic book series created by Robert Kirkman, the zombie-enriched drama finished its first season on AMC earlier this month and has already been picked up for another.

That's good news for Cablevision. History says hits produce profits. With Mad Men and Breaking Bad, among others, Rainbow saw operating profits more than double in 2009. Adding The Walking Dead should spur further growth.

AMC is one of four channels operated by Rainbow Media Holdings. IFC, Sundance Channel, and WE tv are the other three. Two related companies, IFC Films and IFC Products, distribute independent pictures and produce feature-length films.

Not impressed yet? Consider that without Madison Square Garden's heavy expenses dragging on profits, Rainbow should be able to produce enough profit to help Cablevision fulfill or even exceed Wall Street's estimates for better-than-20% earnings growth for the foreseeable future.

No matter. Investors either don't believe that Cablevision will produce outsized profits, or they're waiting for further proof there's gold at the end of its Rainbow. At 31 times trailing income, the stock looks expensive -- until you realize its forward P/E is closer to 17.

"Addition to the S&P 500 and good forward P/E, but in all honesty, AMC's The Walking Dead was the clincher for me. Another great addition that makes this network stand out from the crowd," wrote All-Star investor NinjaJew earlier this month.

I agree, but I've also had my say. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Let us know if you think Cablevision will be one of next year's best by voting in the poll below, and then leave a comment to explain your thinking. You can also rate Cablevision in Motley Fool CAPS.

Which is the best stock for 2011? See all 12 candidates here.

Cablevision may be my pick for next year's best, but our Foolish team of analysts has identified one stock positioned to beat all others in 2011. Find out which stock they're betting on by checking out this free special report.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Madison Square Garden and is on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is simply the best. Better than all the rest.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2010, at 12:03 PM, Diagoras wrote:

    I notice you did not mention the fact that the company also has a shareholder equity of negative $5.155 billion. If you include this in their valuation and as a business risk, would you still say that they are undervalued? I am skeptical that Cablevision will be able to justify its value given the vast amount of debt and resulting negative equity it holds.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2010, at 4:41 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @Diagoras,

    Thanks for writing.

    >>I notice you did not mention the fact that the company also has a shareholder equity of negative $5.155 billion.

    Capital IQ has Cablevision's equity at negative $6.24 billion. So in that sense, the situation's even more dire than you imagine ... or is it?

    Rather than focusing entirely on equity, a better approach might be to ask how does CVC put debt *and* equity to work for shareholders? The answer lies in the company's returns on capital, which are good and getting better:

    2005 -- 3.7%

    2006 -- 5.0%

    2007 -- 8.4%

    2008 -- 10.7%

    2009 -- 13.5%

    TTM -- 15.5%

    Also, ROC reached new highs in the two quarters following the separation from Madison Square Garden (i.e., 19.1% in the June quarter, 18% in the Sept. quarter).

    Thanks again for writing and Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

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