It would be easy to assume the worst. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is the country's biggest cable TV service provider, but the cord-cutting movement is still going strong and stealing cable TV market share. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has crimped the company's theme park business and film studio operations for the better part of this year. These headwinds have to be taking a toll on the bottom line.
But Comcast is a far more diversified company than it may be getting credit for. Though it's certainly challenged in this environment, it's got lots of operating units that are actually benefiting from the strange circumstances created by COVID-19. As such, the dividend and Comcast's consistent growth are going to be fine.
IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.
Even tough times aren't too terribly tough
For the three-month stretch ending in September, Comcast turned revenue of $25.5 billion into per-share earnings of $0.44. Both were lower than the year-ago comparison when the company earned $0.70 per share on sales of $26.8 billion. As could have been expected, theme park revenue plummeted 81% to only $311 million. Filmed entertainment revenue did well to only tumble 25% year over year, to $2.4 billion. Comcast's Xfinity cable brand shed another 238,000 customers. Those numbers roughly reflect the company's second-quarter results too, when the pandemic was in full swing.
Largely lost in the list of Comcast's sore spots, however, is the fact that theme parks, films, and cable TV are relatively small pieces of its total business.
The graphic below puts things in perspective, comparing last quarter's total revenue by business to year-ago levels. During the third quarter of 2019, cable TV service only accounted for around one-fifth of the company's top line. Though its total revenue fell last quarter, that setback didn't take a huge bite out of Comcast's business. In fact, the addition of 633,000 new high-speed internet customers drove Comcast's broadband sales up 10% year over year. That business is almost as big its cable television arm. The company's Sky unit is also almost as big, and its revenue grew to the tune of 5%.
DATA SOURCE: COMCAST'S Q3 INVESTOR REPORT. CHART BY AUTHOR. ALL DOLLAR FIGURES ARE IN MILLIONS.
The point is that this organization has a lot of ways to drive revenue and convert it into income.
That's not to suggest Comcast has simply breezed through the effects of the pandemic. Profits fell substantially during Q3. Theme park EBITDA swung from $731 million in the third quarter of 2019 to a negative $203 million for the quarter ending in September of this year. Sky's EBITDA fell from $899 million to $515 million. Overall EBITDA was lower to the tune of 11%, and net income was lower by 18%. Per-share earnings fell 37%.
Even with those headwinds though -- rooted in (hopefully) temporary circumstances -- Comcast earned $0.44 per share, more than covering the company's current quarterly dividend of $0.23 per share. Presuming things won't get any worse for Comcast than they did last quarter and instead will start to rebound from here, there's plenty of wiggle room for the cable and media giant to continue paying and improving its dividend.
DATA SOURCE: THOMSON REUTERS EIKON CHART BY AUTHOR.
Comcast is indeed a solid dividend-paying pick
Could things get worse before they get better for Comcast? Sure, anything's possible, particularly with the spread of COVID-19 still going strong.
But the pandemic is arguably fueling about as much new business for this company as it's taking away. For instance, its new streaming service Peacock now boasts 22 million viewers, offering the company a chance to monetize consumers who may have already cut the cord, or are about to. CEO Brian Roberts also commented during the recent third-quarter earnings call: "Where we continue to see the most pressure from COVID, is in our theme parks, which were the single biggest drag in the quarter. In fact, excluding this segment, NBCUniversal EBITDA would have grown by 9% year-over-year." Comcast's cable (and internet) arm's profitability was up as well despite the steep loss of cable TV customers, as broadband is a much more profitable business than cable television.
Income investors may not be thrilled with its relatively low current dividend yield of 1.9%, but lower yields are often an indication of stock price growth and the trade-off for dependable, growing dividends.
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