There's a new bull on Sirius XM Radio (SIRI -1.49%). Gabelli & Co. reinitiated coverage of the country's satellite radio monopoly with a buy rating on Friday, and slapped a price target of $4.75 on the stock.
Most of the financial journalists covering the move are framing this as Mario Gabelli's firm initiating coverage, but anyone who's been following Sirius XM knows that Gabelli & Co. has been here before.
It was one of the more prolific firms to provide coverage during the volatile days following the merger of Sirius and XM in 2008 and Liberty Media (FWONA) stepping up in 2009 to provide desperate financing.
- Gabelli analyst Brett Harriss downgraded the stock -- from buy to hold -- in late 2010, fearing that the upside was limited at its present valuation. The argument at the time was that Liberty Media presented a better way to invest in Sirius XM's stock.
- He turned bullish again five months later.
- He downgraded the stock a year after that, concerned about what would happen after Liberty Media stops buying the stock in the open market after it acquires its majority stake.
- Gabelli & Co. portfolio manager Chris Marangi appeared on Bloomberg a few months later, waxing optimistic on the stock. Marangi's Gabelli Asset Fund owned 270,000 shares of Liberty Media at the time, so he had more than a bit of money riding on the success of satellite radio.
Marangi's bullish case for Sirius XM included a successful push outside of the auto market. With folks paying far more for satellite television than satellite radio, he saw great potential in tackling the home market. Three years later, that still hasn't panned out. Sirius XM remains primarily consumed on the open road.
There's nothing wrong with that. We are a nation of drivers, and Sirius XM continues to grow as the platform of choice for premium audio. Sirius XM had a record 28.4 million subscribers at the end of June with another record 23.4 million of them on as self-pay accounts.
Satisfaction isn't a problem. Monthly churn is at a historic low. The beauty of the Sirius XM model is that this is a highly scalable model -- a small uptick in revenue usually results in a much larger spike on the bottom line. Sirius XM has now rattled off 18 consecutive quarters of profitability, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.
Six years ago, downgrades were a matter of believing that Sirius XM wasn't going to make it. That's not even open for debate these days. Downgrades now happen primarily for valuation reasons. If investors aren't buying, there's a good chance that Sirius XM might be. Its board authorized another $2 billion more in stock repurchases last month.
So, sure, it's great to have Gabelli & Co. back, but it's hard to call this an initiation -- at least not without a little hazing to go with it.