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Where Will Live Nation Entertainment Be in 3 Years?

By Anders Bylund - Apr 27, 2021 at 7:33AM

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The Ticketmaster parent's investors expect a quick recovery, but it's a long way back to full financial health.

Ticketmaster parent Live Nation Entertainment (LYV 2.87%) crashed hard when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down concerts and live events around the world. The stock has also made a full recovery from the market bottom a year ago. At the same time, the company's business remains shuttered. Are Live Nation's investors getting ahead of themselves here?

The business challenge in 2 telling charts

You know what they say about pictures speaking volumes, so let's start there. The coronavirus crisis strangled Live Nation's revenue, but the company still has a lot of fixed costs to cover. Hence, the company is burning a lot of cash these days:

LYV Revenue (TTM) Chart

LYV Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts

Management is keeping the lights on and its managed venues maintained with the help of new debt papers. Live Nation's long-term debt balance has nearly doubled over the past year. Powered by the incoming debt-backed cash, the company's cash reserves peaked at $3.3 billion last summer but have now dwindled to $2.5 billion:

LYV Cash and Equivalents (Quarterly) Chart

LYV Cash and Equivalents (Quarterly) data by YCharts

Fingers crossed

Long story short, Live Nation can't afford to burn cash at this rate for much longer. CEO Michael Rapino has his fingers crossed that the widespread availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines will allow a return to full-scale concerts this summer, releasing more than a year's worth of pent-up consumer demand for live shows in a massive blaze of glory.

"Vaccine distribution is accelerating, and declines in COVID cases throughout most of the world gives us even more confidence that a safe and meaningful return to shows will soon be possible," Rapino said on February's fourth-quarter earnings call. "Given the mass social and economic toll the lockdown has put on the public, we believe there will be strong momentum to reopen society swiftly as soon as vaccines are readily available, and we believe outdoor activity will be the first to happen."

OK, but realistically speaking...

President Biden has indeed promised that every American adult should have access to a coronavirus vaccine by May, which seems to set the stage for the orderly return to a normal business that Live Nation needs. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Millions of Americans don't want to take any of the available vaccines. Those who do want it can't always do so at a convenient location with short lines. Two of the three vaccines on the U.S. market today require a second dose to reach their full efficiency. That can be a tall order for some people -- especially if they experienced headaches and heavy fatigue after the first shot. These issues are just the tip of a much larger iceberg.

In other words, the American population may never become fully vaccinated, and large-scale live events could still carry significant coronavirus risks for years to come.

A businessman holds an alarm clock in one hand.

Time is money. Live Nation is running low on both. Image source: Getty Images.

Come back later

So let's say that Ticketmaster goes back to roughly 50% of 2019's revenues over the next four quarters. With something like $6 billion in top-line sales and a relatively full-throated return to promotion and advertising efforts, Live Nation would probably report negative operating income and continue to burn at least $1 billion of cash.

In other words, this company stands a long way away from sustainable cash profits. The quick rebound in Live Nation's stock chart looks overly optimistic, leaving lots of room for corrections before giving the shares something that approaches their fair value.

Three years from now, Live Nation could stand close to the business model it had at the end of 2019. Any improvements over that base-level recovery will take longer. This is not a stock I would buy at today's inflated prices.

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