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These 2 stocks are for life, not just for Christmas

Photo: Public domain.

Some companies enjoy the winter season more than others. Here are two that usually perform well at Christmas, the question is, what happens in 2017?

Telly time

The dark winter nights are peak time for broadcasters as more of us sit in front of the goggle box rather than brave the cold outdoors. Let’s hope this is good news for ITV (LSE: ITV), which has hardly been compulsive viewing lately. After seven years of unmissable growth, investors have been turning off in droves, with its share price falling 33% over the past 12 months.

Brexit was a blow but you can’t blame it for everything, ITV’s share price was already in steady decline, falling almost a quarter between the start of the year and the referendum on 23 June, largely due to fears of slowing advertising sales. This overlooked that fact that the group posted a healthy double-digit rise in Q1 sales. Half-year results were also healthy, with an 11% rise in external revenue to £1.5bn, which included a 31% rise in ITV Studios total revenue to £651m. However, net advertising revenue was flat at £838m.

Future programming

As the UK economy continues to shrug off Brexit fears, ITV may be stronger than the market thinks. Chief executive Adam Crozier has done a decent job of diversifying the business, with ITV Studios bringing in new revenues from original programming, boosting overseas earnings and easing the reliance on advertising. He has also strengthened the balance sheet and cut net debt.

Trading on a forecast valuation of 10.4 times earnings with a yield of 4.3%, ITV looks tempting for those who still think there’s life in the UK economy next year. But with earnings per share forecast to be flat this year and next, you may have to wait a while for the share price to spring forwards.

On your Marks

Think Christmas, think Marks & Spencer (LSE: MKS). OK, maybe that’s overdoing it, but this high street family favourite should still reap the rewards of the festive season. It certainly needs a seasonal lift, with the share price down 33% over the past 12 months.

As ever, it’s the ailing general clothing division that’s costing St Michael its halo. In the quarter to early July a disappointing 0.9% fall in like-for-like food sales was smothered by a woeful 8.9% plunge in Clothing & Home. Total food sales actually grew 4%, as it opened more Simply Food outlets.

Ding dong merrily

New chief executive Steve Rowe is aiming to turn clothing around, like all of his predecessors, but ruined his pitch by patronisingly referring to “Mrs M&S”, which frankly suggests he doesn’t understand his target market or modern women, and like the clothing division itself, is living in the past.

Still, ’tis soon the season to be jolly and an M&S food hall is a good place to begin your festivities. Trading at a forecast 11.6 times earnings, some of the company’s problems are in the price, while the forecast yield of 6% offers year-round warmth, with solid enough cover of 1.4. Consumer spending is holding up for now, and the Bank of England has just raised its 2017 growth forecasts. However, Rowe has a lot of work to do before M&S can enjoy a Happy New Year.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended ITV. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.