Cable and media giant Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCS.A) should be on the radar of, any risk-off dividend investor. Its current 2.3% dividend yield looks pretty darn good these days, especially compared with the super-low rates on investment-grade bonds. Moreover, Comcast's payout has increased in each of the past 12 years, and I'd expect more increases in the future, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Comcast has a mix of COVID-19-resistant and COVID-19-affected business segments, so its results are a bit of a mixed bag right now; however, the COVID-resistant broadband business makes up a vast majority of profits, protecting the company's payout. Meanwhile, adversely affected businesses such a theatrical distribution and theme parks could add upside if and when the economy reopens.
Better yet, Comcast stock trades at just 16.3 times earnings, compared with 27.5 for the broader market, giving investors a strong company at a below-market multiple with a good yield.
Let's delve deeper into Comcast's diverse business and see how each part is performing today.
Broadband gives Comcast safety
The company's largest segment is its cable & broadband segment, which delivers broadband, video bundles, and landline and mobile phone plans. Despite COVID-19, or maybe because of it, that segment reported strong results in the first quarter. Customer relationships grew 3.9%, revenue grew by an even higher 4.5%, adjusted EBITDA grew an even better 6.1%, and free cash flow grew the most of all, at 10.1%.
Some may be wondering how Comcast can maintain this profit growth amid widespread cord-cutting in the video cable bundle. That's because the traditional video bundle is actually a very low-margin product due to the high costs of content, despite its high price. As people cut the cord on traditional cable, they're likely buying high-speed internet in order to stream all their favorite services and work from home. Comcast's high-speed internet services grew an impressive 9.3% in the quarter and business broadband services grew 8%. Since broadband services are higher-margin than video, Comcast's margins actually increase as broadband grows and video declines.
While landline phones are also in decline, Comcast has been adapting, and now offers wireless phone plans that utilize the Verizon (NYSE:VZ) network on a wholesale basis. While landline voice services fell 9.2% in the quarter, Comcast's wireless phone services, albeit off a smaller base, grew 52.1%.
Comcast is the largest broadband provider in the country, which gives it a formidable moat. That's because customers usually only have one or two choices for their broadband and video services in a given area. Since it becomes uneconomic for a third competitor to come in and build another network, incumbent cable and broadband providers usually enjoy high margins.
Fortunately for Comcast, the cable communications segment made up 56.6% of revenue and 75.3% of adjusted EBITDA in the first quarter. So most Comcast's profits should be resilient amid the stay-at-home economy.
However, as we'll see, other parts of Comcast's empire are a bit more troubled.
NBCUniversal and Sky are feeling the pinch
In 2011, Comcast bought NBCUniversal, with operations across broadcast and cable networks, along with Universal movie studios and theme parks. Obviously, film and TV production are being disrupted right now, as are theatrical releases. And of course, the normally high-margin theme park business has come to a standstill amid COVID-19. Even the cable networks declined last quarter, due to both cord-cutting and a pullback on advertising.
Overall, NBCUniversal revenue was down 7% and adjusted EBITDA down over 25% in the first quarter, and that really only counted two weeks of COVID-19 impact, so the second quarter was likely much worse. On the conference call with analysts, management said that if the company's theme parks were closed for the entire quarter, the parks segment would lose about $500 million.
Comcast's Sky segment in Europe also saw declines, though not quite as bad. Revenue declined 3.7% and adjusted EBITDA down 15.3% in the quarter. Sky is a mix of direct-to-consumer video subscriptions, advertising, as well as proprietary content, especially in sports. Obviously, the lack of live sports is really hurting both NBC and Sky right now.
More good than bad
While there are definitely some parts of Comcast's empire that are struggling, the company's $0.92 annual dividend seems well-covered by the company's free cash flow. In the first quarter, Comcast generated $3.3 billion in free cash flow and only paid out $977 million in dividends, and that was after raising its dividend by 10% this year.
Comcast has also been able to use its excess cash to pay down debt. While somewhat high on an absolute basis, Comcast's net debt has fallen from $105.5 billion to $94.2 billion since last year, and at 2.8 times EBITDA, isn't overly high compared with the company's profitability.
Meanwhile, as the economy opens up more and more and live sports return to TV, or better yet, if a COVID-19 vaccine begins to show promise, Comcast's more adversely affected businesses will turn around, which could lead to further upside.
Finally, Comcast is looking to fix its cord-cutting woes with the recent launch of Peacock, its over-the-top streaming product. Comcast has a history of savvy management moves and execution, so if Peacock turns out to be a success, then all of Comcast's business have a chance of looking better a year from now than they do today.
Comcast is trailing the market this year and is still about 15% below its January highs. Yet not only should Comcast's dividend be safe, but there may even be some upside in shares, should things improve on the vaccine/live sports front. That's why, in a market filled with extremely high-priced growth stocks or very beaten-down and troubled stocks in the travel & leisure sector, Comcast is a hard-to-find low-risk dividend stock trading at a reasonable price today.