Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (LGF): Media Stocks That Are Worth Serious Looks

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Tony Wible of Janney Capital gets right to the point in a recent report he sent to investors about the state of media stocks:

He noted that the group has advanced in concert with the broad market since the dark days of early 2009 and particularly so far in 2013. Wible posits: “This brings up the argument of whether valuations could be expanding too far too fast.”

It’s a reasonable jumping-off point for a lively debate. And if you happen to be in the camp of optimists, you have many stocks to look seriously at right now.

Diversified media stocks are up about 25% on a year-to-date basis. Even though they outshine the 15% return of the S&P 500, the sector still trades at a smaller-than-typical premium to the benchmark index. “Opportunities in the group seem limited, based on valuation disparities, but we expect to see more movement as sentiment around ratings, ad rates, the economy and digital threats and opportunities become clear,” Wible points out.

Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF)

At this time of year, the public is fixated with the summer movie blockbusters. Meanwhile, the studio stocks are up 47 percent as sentiment builds for the summer lineup and the sector advances toward its seasonal high point. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF) trades currently at about 13.9 times the consensus EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) to the group’s average of 13.2 times, which is below the historical premium and group average, Wible notes in his report. At the same time, DreamWorks Animation Skg Inc (NASDAQ:DWA) “looks rich at 19.3 EBITDA, which is higher than its 4% premium.”

Wible’s analysis determines that the beneficiaries are likely going to be Viacom, Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB), Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF), Carmike Cinemas, Inc. (NASDAQ:CKEC), and DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV).

These stocks have had nice runs so far this year. Consider that the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index has advanced 11% since the start of the year, versus 25% for Viacom, 69% for Lions Gate, 19% for Carmike Cinemas, Inc. (NASDAQ:CKEC), and 21% for DIRECTV (NASDAQ:DTV).

Of these stocks, I am most intrigued by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF) – because of the lesson it provides to stock market mavens and others.

Please allow me to digress for a moment in this discussion.

I discovered this company a decade ago, when it was a pipsqueak in Hollywood and on Wall Street. What I learned back then — and it has influenced what I continue to look for today — was that one seemingly throwaway nugget of information can provide an observer with some valuable insight. It can go a long way toward helping to make a determination on a company — and, by extension, the prospects for its stock. (Click here to examine Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (USA) (NYSE:LGF)’s fundamentals.)

In this case, a friend of mine in Los Angeles had told me that Michael Burns, the vice chairman of Lions Gate, would be coming to New York to meet securities analysts, and our mutual friend suggested that I interview Burns for my media column.

Always on the lookout for a good story about a fledgling company, I dutifully interviewed Burns. At the time, his company’s stock was nestled comfortably in the single digits and well out of the limelight.

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