We're now just two days away from Sirius XM Radio's
Some of the air of mystery has been let out of the balloon already. It's been more than a month since the satellite-radio operator revealed that it landed 257,000 net new accounts during the quarter. It also announced that it would surpass its earlier target of $100 million in free cash flow for all of 2009.
Naturally, these are the kind of pre-announcements that should make investors comfortable heading into Thursday morning's report. However, the stock has soared by 53% since last month's disclosures -- so it's safe to say that the good news is baked into the shares, leaving CEO Mel Karmazin to pull yet another rabbit out of his hat.
Let's go over a few of the questions that I would like to see answered this week.
1. How are those Howard Stern negotiations coming along?
From terrestrial radio to American Idol, there has been no shortage of rumor-mill fodder as to where Sirius star Howard Stern will wind up after his five-year contract ends this year. Stern has milked the chatter, proving to everyone that he is the master of negotiating in public.
All of this attention is good for Sirius XM, as long as it's able to keep the magnetic morning-show legend on board at a feasible price.
Some would prefer to see him go, feeling that Sirius XM is already well-entrenched and needs the $100 million a year it is currently paying him more than it needs his presence. Not me, but if he somehow makes the unlikely bolt back to terrestrial radio in 2011, the move would certainly validate beleaguered commercial radio.
2. How are those apps working out?
When Sirius XM launched its online streaming program through Apple's
That's not going to happen, at least until the country is coated in coast-to-coast connectivity or when every subscriber owns a 4G smartphone.
However, Sirius XM's success on the streaming front would help release it from being shackled to the ups and downs in the automotive industry. This was a bad place to be during the first half of last year, as automaker struggles forced Sirius XM to post its first sequential declines in subscribers. It's back, now, as strength at Ford
3. Will there be guidance for 2010?
Sirius XM suspended its guidance when the going got rough toward the end of 2008, but it's been chattier these days when the news is good. Will we get an update on subscriber-tally expectations for 2010? How much will cash flows improve this year? Can Sirius XM really shock the bears again by pointing to outright profitability by year's end?
Sirius XM has excelled at cutting expenses and trimming subscriber-acquisition costs. Churn has been held mostly in check, and its conversion rate -- turning car buyers with free trials on their factory-installed receivers into paying-account holders -- has started to bounce back. All of these welcome trends should have continued into Q4, but it would also be nice to see the reversal of some negative trends, such as the company's inability to grow advertising revenue through its ad-supported content.
In short, there will be a lot more than three questions worth asking. For the company's sake, let's hope it can clear most of the high expectations.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a subscriber to both Sirius and XM. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this article and is also a member of the Rule Breakers analytical team, seeking out the next great growth stock early in its defiance. The Fool has a disclosure policy.