DIRECTV's Pennies From Heaven

Controversy and disagreement can be a good thing for the opportunistic investor, as DirecTV (NYSE: DTV  ) demonstrates. It seems to have created a sharp divide between its fans and detractors, with precious little middle ground. When the "hate it" folks held more sway, the stock could have been bought below $14. Nowadays, though, there seems to be a bit more love for this stock, and the price is near a 52-week high.

Not surprisingly, I've seen more than a few different takes on the earnings posted by this satellite TV provider. Personally, I think it was a decent quarter.

Total revenue rose about 8%, and the company reversed operating and net losses from a year ago into profits this quarter. Moreover, EBITDA was up nicely, and the company produced free cash flow for the quarter.

Those are secondary metrics to many analysts, investors, and commentators at this point -- the real interest is in subscriber numbers and churn rate. Though gross subscriber additions were down 19%, the company posted a lower churn rate for the period.

Even there, though, there is controversy and sniping. Skeptics will argue that lower subscriber numbers suggest more successful competition from cable companies, including Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) . (The lower churn suggests otherwise.) Others will say that the lower churn rate and lower additions, coupled with better profitability, are signs that the company's model is working better, and that focusing on higher-value customers will pay off in the long run.

There's also debate about the longer-term picture here. Some feel that DIRECTV is vulnerable to losing marketing partners like BellSouth (NYSE: BLS  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) to their own pay-TV efforts. Others are more skeptical about the desire of telcos to get into TV (despite U.S. Telecom Association ads to the contrary). They point to the better margin and return potential for satellite providers that don't tie themselves down with commodity telephone service (and eventually, commoditized broadband offerings).

Were the stock still in the low-to-mid teens, I might have a vested interest in jumping into the middle of the fray. At today's prices, though, I have little interest in either the "love it" or "hate it" camps. The stock is not overpriced, but it's not compellingly cheap, either.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares). Time Warner is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. The Fool's disclosure policy keeps its eye on the sky.


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