To say that the last couple of years have been disappointing for investors in broadcaster ITV (LSE: ITV) is something of an understatement. Before this morning, the company’s valuation had already fallen 35% since the heady days of 265p, achieved at the end of 2015. Nevertheless, I remain positive on the business. Here’s why.
First, the good news. Total external revenue rose 2% to £3.13bn with a significant contribution from the company’s Studios division (to the tune of £1.58bn). The Broadcast business also “remains robust” with ITV’s share of the total viewing audience growing 2% over 2017. Unsurprisingly, online viewing figures also continue to show serious momentum, climbing 39% on the previous year.
As expected however, the company saw a reduction in advertising revenue from its family of channels as a result of the “uncertain economic environment“. The figure of £1.59bn announced this morning represented a 5% decline on that achieved in 2016, contributing to a 5% fall in overall pre-tax profit to £800m.
New CEO Carolyn McCall was upbeat. Overseeing her first set of results, the former easyJet boss stated there could be “no doubt” that the company’s performance over the last year had been strong given the challenging environment in which it was operating. She went on to remark that the £7bn cap had experienced a “great start” to 2018 with 60% of expected revenue from ITV Studios already booked thanks to strong demand for dramas in the UK and US. Perhaps most importantly, advertising revenue is expected to be positive in H1 thanks in part to the forthcoming FIFA World Cup.
Notwithstanding the market’s negative reaction to the numbers released this morning, I remain bullish on ITV. Given the consistently decent returns achieved on the money it invests, its shares continue to look attractively valued at just 11 times predicted earnings for the 2018 financial year. The balance sheet looks solid and, while the company confirmed there would be no special dividend for 2017, investors are unlikely to complain about today’s 8% hike to the full-year payout. Indeed, dividends look a lot safer here than they do elsewhere in the FTSE 100.
ITV isn’t the only company in the market’s top tier that could be worth picking up right now. While the last year has undeniably been kinder to holders of stock in cruise operator Carnival (LSE: CCL), its shares have also experienced some weakness, falling roughly 10% since last summer.
Despite this, the future looks very positive. Only yesterday, the largest leisure travel company in the world announced that it had ordered a third ship for its AIDA brand in Germany — the fastest growing cruise market in Europe. The 180,000-ton, liquefied natural gas-powered beast will be ready to sail in 2023 and forms part of the company’s strategy to enhance its fleet to capitalise on the strong growth in demand for cruising holidays seen over recent years.
Even if the sheer size of the company means that the price of its stock is unlikely to soar, its shares remain a solid buy for the long term in my view, particularly given the enduring popularity of cruises among retirees. The company continues to buy back its shares, and its dividends, while not as substantial as those offered by ITV, are fully covered by earnings and likely to be hiked by a double-digit percentage again this year.
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Paul Summers has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Carnival and ITV. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.