By Nico Gayle, Lead Editor
We believe we’re about to experience a great newspaper revival. With fresh word from The New York Times (NYT) that it's following News Corp.’s (NWSA) lead and charging for online content, we think most major publishers will follow suit — leading to more robust profit margins and higher quality journalism. However, in the short term we expect publishers to face headwinds as readers balk at having to pay for what was once free. Here are 10 stocks we think will directly or indirectly benefit from this trend over the long term.
New York Times: This one is fairly self-explanatory. While the company is taking the risk of losing viewers to free sites, the implemented fees would mean higher profits if enough readers decide to stay. The site’s viewers have been growing, so this move is a bold one. However, as other firms move to the online subscription model, the risk of losing customers should lower significantly. With a market cap of $1.4B, NYT is currently trading at a P/E ratio of 13.4. We think shares are mildly undervalued and suggest interested investors take a look if the stock price shows weakness.
News Corporation: News Corporation is a media conglomerate with holdings in film, TV, and publishing, highlighted by the Fox units and The Wall Street Journal. The firm was ahead of NYT in charging for online newspaper access, as the WSJ has followed the model for a while. As the WSJ’s competitors move towards online charges, it should be in a better position to gain subscribers. A widespread movement away from free online content could also benefit News Corp. through its Fox TV news affiliates, as people move away from the relatively higher costs of online news. NWSA has a market cap of $45B, and is trading at a 15.1 P/E ratio. It also offers a $0.15 (.9%) dividend. NWSA's dividend is sustainable, given the cash flow statement. Shares of NWSA are a buy.
Google (GOOG): Google stands to benefit for several reasons. First, the Google Books app should benefit from more online written publications. Second, Google News should receive an increase in traffic. The New York Times’ new system, similar to others, allows free access to online content through search engines like Google, even after the free views limit has been reached. Not only will readers use this service to preview content before buying, but more casual readers will also likely use it to access content that they do not want to pay for. This increase in traffic holds significant ad potential for Google, if it can find a way to exploit it. Google is trading at a 21.81 P/E ratio and has a market cap of $184.46B.
Apple (APPL): Apple may not seem like an obvious candidate for this list, but the developing industry trends could benefit the tech giant. As newspaper companies start charging for online content, they will surely work to improve digital offerings in order to attract subscribers. As evidenced by NYT’s three subscription options, which include either a smartphone app, an iPad app, or both, one method of improving online offerings will be through mobile applications, a market that Apple leads.
As the usefulness of these apps improves, demand for Apple products like the iPhone and iPad should only increase. Additionally, Apple would likely receive extra revenue from its cut of the sales from these apps, along with sales of other apps purchased by new iPhone or iPad owners. Apple is one of the largest corporations in the world, with a market cap of $308.9B, and is trading at a 19.2 P/E ratio. Goldman (GS) has been bullish on Apple. AAPL is a buy on any pullback. Nasdaq index reshuffling may present an opportunity for interested investors.
Gannett Co. Inc. (GCI): As the owner of USA Today, Gannett could benefit directly from a move to charging for online content. Even if USA Today decides to keep offering its material for free, it could pick up viewers as people move away from sites that charge for access. The company also has a broadcasting segment and owns several popular websites such as Careerbuilder.com and Cars.com. GCI is trading at a relatively low P/E ratio of 6.6, and offers a 1% dividend yield. The company has a market cap of $3.7B. Gannett has some valuable properties but needs to do more to manage them well. Reshuffling of executives may provide a positive catalyst for the company and fresh eyes benefit revenue and profit opportunities.
Lee Enterprises (LEE): Unlike the national newspapers on the list, Lee Enterprises publishes local newspapers in 53 towns across the U.S. with a total daily circulation of around 1.3 million. As national news providers start charging for content, Lee should gain an edge in the smaller markets where it operates, many of which have little local competition. Should it choose to, the firm could also charge for online access, boosting profit margins. Lee presents an interesting valuation. After negative earnings during the recession, the company has turned things around, with a TTM ROE of 55%. It is trading at an extremely low P/E of 3.2 and a price/sales of 0.2. However, the firm has lots of debt, as shown by its debt/equity ratio of 12.87. Lee has a market cap of $113.5M.
McClatchy (MNI): The third-largest newspaper publisher in the United States, McClatchy publishes newspapers throughout the country, in larger markets than those of LEE, such as Miami, Ft. Worth and Charlotte. Like Lee, MNI could receive extra customers from a pricing advantage over national newspapers that implement fees for online access. However, because it operates in larger markets, McClatchy would likely have better odds of success than Lee in charging for online content. Either way, MNI has an established customer base, with leading newspapers in many large markets, so it should benefit from a move away from free online content. McClatchy has a market cap of $330.2M, and currently has a P/E of 8.8.
Time Warner (TWX): Time Warner owns over 150 magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Time, Fortune, and People. The company also owns CNN, the popular news channel and website. CNN will surely be affected by a shift to subscription based access, as it is one of the major news competitors of publishers like The New York Times and WSJ, which both charge for content. However, all of these Time Warner units stand to benefit from the shift towards subscription-based services, either through increased readers or higher profit margins. With a market cap of $39.51B, TWX is trading at a 16.06 P/E ratio.
The Washington Post (WPO): The Washington Post, which has become one of the most popular national newspapers in the country, is another competitor of news sources like NYT and the WSJ. As its competitors begin charging for content, WPO will have the option of implementing fees and improving online services, or keeping access free to attract more customers. Either way, the company should benefit. WPO is trading at a 13.1 P/E multiple, and has a market cap of $3.6B.
Disney (DIS): Disney might not be an obvious candidate for this list, but as the owner of ABC and ESPN, it should benefit. In fact, Disney was ahead of the curve here: ESPN launched its "Insider" subscription service, which charges for access to premium content on ESPN.com, several years ago. In 2009, the company combined this service with ESPN the Magazine, betting that people would pay for the content. The program is still alive and well, and the ESPN brand has grown into one of Disney’s most important units.
Disney could also benefit from charging for online content in other units, such as movies, music, comics, and its wide collection of book publishers. Disney has a P/E of 18.8 and a market cap of $79.9B. Disney's properties are incredibly valuable. Interested investors may want to take a look at shares at these levels.
Amazon (AMZN): In short, Amazon should benefit through improved offerings on its Kindle product. As more consumers find their favorite reading materials available on the Kindle, sales should naturally increase. From the publishers’ perspective, people who are paying for online content will want access from beyond their computers. In order to attract these subscribers, it would make sense for news companies to strike up deals with Amazon to provide content on the Kindle. These two forces should work together to boost Kindle sales and Amazon profits. Amazon has a market cap of $73.5B and is trading at a P/E of 73. Amazon's new products are enticing, but shares remain overvalued on a discounted cash flow basis. Investors would be wise to take some money off the table in this name.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.