Earnings season always has its hits and misses, and tomorrow it will be Sirius XM Radio's (NASDAQ: SIRI ) turn to prove bulls or bears right. The satellite-radio provider reports its first-quarter results in the morning, and analysts aren't setting the bar very high.
Wall Street sees revenue climbing 11%, to $994.6 million, but that's less than when it topped $1 billion for the holiday quarter. That's certainly disappointing on the surface. There shouldn't be a lot of seasonality in a growing subscription-based business. However, revenue climbed from $892 million to just $897 million a year earlier between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. The year before that, we saw a healthier sequential increase as we went from $784 million to $805 million, but it actually declined -- going from $736 million in the fourth quarter to $724 million in the first quarter -- the year before that.
We can't forget that there are two fewer days in the first calendar quarter of the year relative to the holiday quarter. That alone would explain a sequential dip; but did anyone say that Sirius XM clocked in with exactly $994.6 million in revenue? Naturally, we'll let the media giant have the final word. It could be better than that, and it wouldn't be the first time that Sirius XM lands north of where the pros are perched.
Are there reasons to be concerned heading into tomorrow's report? Absolutely. Sirius XM posted a rare sequential decline in subscribers during the fourth quarter of last year, though the more important count of self-pay users improved. There is no match for the coast-to-coast consistency of satellite radio, but the streaming options in the growing number of connected cars continues to improve.
We also can't dismiss Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LMCA ) announcing its intention to acquire all of Sirius XM shortly after the quarter began, but abandoning the attempted reorganization last month. Investors may have cheered Liberty Media bowing out of the proposed spinoff. The premium offered wasn't much, and it would've saddled Sirius XM investors with Liberty Media's slower-growing properties. However, a proposed buyout would have limited the stock's slide if tomorrow's report falls short.
Then again, it's also fair to talk about the potential upside now that Liberty Media has backed down. Sirius XM has corrected 23% since peaking late last year, and earlier this month, it traded at levels last seen 12 months ago. This is a company that has often peppered quarterly reports by revising at least some aspects of its guidance higher. Earlier projections have proven conservative, and that's the kind of company that investors want to be owning when earnings season comes around.
The challenges are real. There will be some imperfections in tomorrow's report. However, Sirius XM's stellar returns during the past five years haven't been accidental. The market expectations are low, and that's just where Sirius XM likes them to be.
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