Citi Research analyst Jason Bazinet thinks it is, and he agrees that “the odds have increased dramatically that Cablevision is sold within the next 12-18 months.” His report today making the case for chairman Charles Dolan and his son, CEO Jim Dolan, to sell — most likely either to Time Warner Cable or Charter — contributed to a 2.5% rise in Cablevision’s stock price, to $14.08. Without the sale speculation, Bazinet figures Cablevision shares would trade closer to $11. Why should the Dolans unload the company they’ve worked so hard to build? Cablevision has a lot of debt, and may find it too difficult to grow. Rising prices for programming “will likely continue to place downward pressure on profitability,” the analyst says. (Cablevision recently sued Viacom alleging that it jacked up programming costs by bundling channels, a charge that the entertainment giant rejects.) Cablevision can’t easily raise prices: It’s engaged in trench warfare with Verizon’s FiOS to attract subscribers the tri-state area around NYC. And Cablevision also recently gave up some potential growth by selling its Rocky Mountain cable systems to Charter. If Cablevision’s best days are behind it, then “we see few economic incentives for the Dolans to take the risk and hold out.” Others warn investors not to bet too heavily on a deal. The stock price has lost more than 60% of its value over the last two years and “the Dolans would logically prefer selling at a healthy [cash flow] level and multiple rather than at a trough,” ISI Media’s Vijay Jayant says.
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