Sirius defies the naysayers -- again

News of a strong second quarter comes as CEO Mel Karmazin clashes with Liberty Media over control of the satellite radio comapny.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 9, 2012 12:18PM
Image: Woman driving car (© Pixland/Jupiterimages)Shares of Sirius XM Radio (SIRI) surged early Monday after the satellite-radio operator raised its revenue and subscriber guidance. The stock has since pared most of its gains and was up less than 1% at midday.

The New York company, which was rescued from bankruptcy in 2009 by John Malone's Liberty Media (LMCA), expects revenue to hit $3.4 billion this year, slightly better than the $3.36 billion that Wall Street had forecast, and up from a previous estimate of $3.3 million.

Sirius expects to add 1.6 million net subscribers this year, which is higher than an earlier forecast of 1.3 million. The company added 622,042 net subscribers in the second quarter, up 38% from a year earlier. During the first half of the year, it saw more than 1 million new net subscribers for a total of about 23 million as of June 30. The timing of this news couldn't have been better for Sirius.

CEO Mel Karmazin is battling efforts by Liberty Media, Sirius' top shareholder, to gain control of the radio home of Howard Stern. Karmazin, one of the most entertaining executives in corporate America, clearly thinks Liberty Media is trying to get something for practically nothing. Wall Street does as well. Analysts have a median 52-week price target on Sirius of $2.57, about 19% above where it currently trades. Sirius has a price-to-earnings ratio of 29, near its five-year low, according to Reuters.  

Karmazin, who described the company's guidance as conservative, has repeatedly said he has no desire to work for someone else. Though many CEOs make similar statements, Karmazin's are seen as credible, given his past run-ins with Sumner Redstone when both men were at Viacom (VIA). Shareholders would flee Sirius in droves if Karmazin ever quit.

Sirius, which pundits have declared dead many times, has won over customers by giving them content, such as Stern, that they can't get elsewhere. Strong auto sales are also helping, including the 14% gain seen by General Motors (GM), Ford Motor (F) and Chrysler. Consumers who held back on buying new cars during the Great Recession are starting to pry open their check books again. Whether the growth is sustainable is not clear.

Last week's tepid jobs report is not good news for Sirius. Cash-strapped consumers are going to pressure the company to slash its subscription fees, which will affect its profit margins. Rivals such as Pandora (P) are gaining traction as well. Sirius, though, has proved to be remarkably resilient.

In the past few years, Sirius has used nine, maybe 10 lives. The question isn't whether Karmazin's luck will run out but when. Shareholders who want to go along for the ride are advised to fasten their seat belts, because things are going to get bumpy.  Sirius is not a stock for the faint of heart.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr.



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