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The house rules are simple in this weekly column.
I bash a stock that I think is heading lower. I offset the sting by recommending three stocks as portfolio replacements.
Who gets tossed out this week? Come on down, Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) .
Shares of Sirius XM climbed 7% yesterday after CEO Mel Karmazin reiterated his outlook for the balance of the year and issued preliminary guidance for 2012. More importantly, he confirmed that basic rates will in fact inch higher come January.
Basic rates that were locked in at $12.95 a month for years will climb 12% to $14.49 next year.
Obviously, the market liked the sum of what the satellite radio giant had to announce, but I'm not all that impressed.
For starters, I figured that Sirius XM could have pushed through a $2 to $3 increase. Despite the plethora of streaming alternatives and improving dashboard integration, Sirius XM is still the only game in town when it comes to premium satellite content. Going up by just $1.54 a month is less than the music royalty fee that it initially rolled out a couple of years ago (before scaling it back from $1.98 to $1.40).
The price increase also doesn't jibe with Sirius XM's top-line guidance. How can a company target a 12% increase, but only boost its revenue guidance by 10% to $3.3 billion.
I get it. Many subscribers will prepay for gobs of time ahead of the hike at the 2011 rate. There are also lifetime subscribers out there who don't pay. There are also some accounts that pay far less than the going rates for promotion and retention purposes.
However, we can't make the mistake of simply comparing a 12% hike to a 10% year-over-year increase in revenue.
The starting line -- after all -- is the end of December. If we go with the annual run rate implied by the $784.4 million in revenue that analysts are targeting for this year's fourth quarter, guidance is really calling for a mere 5% top-line increase.
Yikes! That implies no net subscriber growth even if just half of the subscribers begin paying the new rate.
The upside here is that Karmazin has been historically conservative in his guidance. Sirius XM will grow its subscriber base, though probably by less than the 1.6 million net additions it is projecting for 2011. It will generate more than $3.3 billion in revenue, and the adjusted EBITDA and free cash flow growth of 20% and 75%, respectively, that it's targeting for 2012 is impressive enough.
I remain a long-term Sirius XM bull, but this mixed guidance -- and the market's enthusiastic embrace of the positives -- has me concerned about the stock's direction in the near term.
As I do every week, I don't talk down a stock unless I have three alternatives that I believe will outperform the company getting the heave-ho. Let's go over the three fill-ins.
- Liberty Capital (Nasdaq: LCAPA ) : True to my word, I bought into John Malone's company last month. Liberty Capital trades at a discount to its eclectic portfolio, and that includes its largest holding: a 40% preferred share stake in Sirius XM. Since I remain long-term bullish on Sirius XM, I'll keep holding Liberty Capital. In the meantime, the investment provides a discounted play on Sirius XM and with some downside protection given the rest of Liberty Capital's holdings, which include the likely playoff-bound Atlanta Braves and high-tech location specialist TruePosition. I'm not wowed by its recent 17% stake in Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) , but I like the overall of its many parts.
- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) : Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is usually an easy portfolio replacement, but I can't bring it up in good conscience after making it the subject of this weekly column earlier this month. Besides, Apple may be the king of digital music, but it just doesn't get the social end judging by Ping's lack of traction. I also considered Pandora (NYSE: P ) for this slot. However, it's still a couple of years away from consistent profitability even if I like the value proposition of picking it up these days for far less than this year's IPO price. I'll stick with Big G, since its recent social success with Google bodes well for the upcoming launch of Google Music. It's also hard to argue against Google at less than 13 times next year's projected earnings.
- CC Media Holdings (OTC: CCMO): I may catch some heat for singling out the parent of Clear Channel, but reports of terrestrial radio's death have been exaggerated. CC Media grew its revenue by 8% in its latest quarter. Don't laugh. Sirius XM's top line inched just 6% higher during the same three months. The growth driver at CC Media isn't really radio, which grew at just a 4% clip -- or flat if it hadn't acquired Westwood One's traffic business. It is growth in its outdoor advertising business -- especially in China and Sweden -- that drove results higher. CC Media is losing money, but deficits continue to narrow. There's something to be said about a media mogul generating twice the revenue of Sirius XM but trading at a small fraction of Sirius XM's enterprise value.
I still dig you, Sirius XM, but call me when growth returns.