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Comcast Corporation (CMCSA): The Smartest Cable Guy on the Block

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Despite stories of consumers cutting the cord becoming more pervasive, cable companies continue to do well and some are even raising prices. This includes the largest cable company, Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA).

Shares of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) seem undervalued on a number of measures. Comcast recently acquired the 49% of NBCUniversal it did not already own from General Electric Company (NYSE:GE), which allows the company to create and distribute TV, movie, and park entertainment in addition to providing connectivity. While the acquisition is not without critics, as evidenced in this recent article in The Nation, it could potentially open a Pandora’s box where every cable operator creates content and where content creators just offer their content directly online.

Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)’s cable business, which still contributes about two-thirds of revenues, is also still able to add new subscribers. Most of its cable offerings, including the “triple play” combo (featuring phone, Internet, and cable service), are experiencing healthy growth.

Fundamentals and valuations

Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has 2.1 billion class A shares, 494 million special class A shares, and 9.4 million class B shares outstanding for a market capitalization of about $110 billion. Class A shares are entitled to 0.1333 votes per share while Class B shares receive 15 votes per share. All of the company’s Class B shares are held by the Roberts family, giving it a third of the voting power in the company.

Two major competitors of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC) and DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV), have 291 million and 559 million shares outstanding for a market capitalization of $33 billion and $35 billion, respectively. Below is a table comparing a number of valuation measures and fundamentals for these companies.

CMCSA TWC DTV
Price-to-earnings (PE) ’13 est. 17.6 17.7 12.8
PE-to-growth 1.1 0.9 0.6
Dividend yield 1.9% 2.3% 0.0%
Current ratio 0.7% 0.8% 1.0%
Operating margin 19.8% 36.6% 25.5%
Net additions of customer relationships (Q1 ’13) 584K -82K 21K**
Beta 1.1 0.7 0.9
Price-to-cash flow from operations 7.4 6 6.5
1-year total return* 32% 39% 28%

* as of July 10, 2013.

** Only U.S. based.

Source: SEC filings, CapitalIQ, Thomson Reuters, author’s calculations.

As seen on the table above, Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is able to add the most net customers by adding new high-speed Internet (433,000) and voice customers (211,000), though its video customers declined by 60,000 in the first quarter. The trend at Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC) was similar, with video losing customers (due in part to increased competition from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ)‘s FiOS in the New York market) but the net gain in high-speed Internet and voice was unable to make up for this loss. Surprisingly, DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) added 21,000 new subscribers in the U.S. despite offering only video service.

In terms of valuation measures, Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is slightly more expensive than Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC), which is well justified as Time Warner Cable provides mainly video, Internet and voice services. While DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) is the least expensive company, it offers only TV service and does not pay a dividend. This last point is is especially important to the income-deprived investor due to record low bond yields.

All three companies also return capital to investors by repurchasing shares, and Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC), and DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) repurchased shares worth $500 million, $660 million, and $1.4 billion, respectively in the first quarter of 2013. All three companies still have significant amounts remaining under their current share buyback authorizations as well.

Competitive positions

As mentioned earlier, Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) was able to raise its prices for a number of its services including video and equipment as well as offer new services. As a result, the company’s average revenue per cable, video and Internet customer increased by about 1% compared to the previous quarter, reaching $155, $77, and $43 respectively. Only voice revenue declined by about 1%, reaching about $30 per customer. In addition, Comcast’s customers are increasingly installing equipment by themselves, with a 38% self-installation rate in the first quarter of 2013 as compared to a 24% self-installation rate in the first quarter of 2012. This increase in self-installation provides larger cost-saving opportunities to the company. Below is a table with some of Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc (NYSE:TWC), and DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV) offerings and monthly prices (excludes promotions) in zip code 10020:

CMCSA TWC DTV
Basic TV (most watched digital channels) $39.95 $49.99 $54.99
Best TV bundle (includes premium channels and sports) $140.00 $145.98 $124.99
Basic high-speed internet (up to 3 Mbps) $39.99 $29.99 n/a
Basic triple play $99.99 $129.99 n/a

Source: company’s web sites.

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