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Our panelists give you the scoop on all the inside business information before you hear it anywhere else in The Informer segment:
David Asman: The Reagans (search) miniseries has created a big hub-bub over bias scripts and fabricated quotes. It was supposed to be on CBS. Then they scooted it over to Showtime. Bottom line -- could this whole controversy actually help Viacom (VIA) the company that owns these two networks? Melanie, can Viacom end up profiting from “The Reagans” controversy?
Melanie Wells, senior editor: CBS stands to make more money by not running the miniseries. Top media buyers at OMD and MediaCom tell me that advertisers didn’t want it anyway, even before the controversy.
David Asman: So Viacom, the owner of both CBS and Showtime, stands to make out well as a result of this?
Melanie Wells: Absolutely. CBS will get more money by not running it, the look like good guys for not running it. Showtime, which desperately needs viewers, and now they’re going to have me, gets to run it.
David Asman:You’re going to buy Showtime just to see the miniseries?
Melanie Wells: Absolutely.
David Asman: Dennis, would you?
Dennis Kneale, managing editor: I think that CBS is looking really bad here. I think they look like a coward and a liar.
David Asman: Well, CBS does, but the question is whether Viacom makes out as a result.
Dennis Kneale: To the $25 billion company that is Viacom, the parent company of both CBS and Showtime this is going to make no difference. But should you buy Viacom stock? Yeah. It’s at $40, it was at about $75 at its peak, and now it earns almost as much in a single quarter as it earned back then in a whole year, so yeah, Viacom’s a buy anyway.
Jim Michaels, editorial vice president: Melanie, you’re being much too kind to these swollen egos who run these entertainment conglomerates. Listen, for years they’ve been foisting on the American people left-wing, liberal propaganda against business. They pretended it was entertainment, and they didn’t pay any attention. All of a sudden, they went too far. They suddenly realized “hey, a lot of people out there don’t like the stuff we’re giving them.” If it wakes them up, it could be good for Viacom in the industry, and I think this is a sign that it’s waking them up.
Melanie Wells: I think they anticipated, and perhaps even engineered the controversy, because they needed viewers.
Jim Michaels: Then they’re even dumber than I thought they were.
David Asman: Well, Bob, what do the big guys at Viacom think about all this?
Bob Lenzner, national editor: I think they think they got embarrassed, but they claimed they knew the film was bad quite a while before it blew up. I think it’s a fairly elegant compromise that they have worked out here. They didn’t deep-six the whole thing because it was bad. They have changed it, I have talked to someone yesterday who has actually seen it, who says they’ve taken out all of the bad parts on Ronald Reagan, and left in all the bad parts about Nancy Reagan. And they will have a group of people discussing it on Showtime from all different political affiliations.
Dennis Kneale: It does make you kind of wonder, if Showtime’s a pay channel and it’s not good enough for CBS, they’re going to put it on Showtime, which you have to pay to get?
Jim Michaels: I’ll believe they’ve reformed when Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, announces that they’re going to do as a sequel, “Hill & Bill,” because that scene when the President hits on 20-year-old interns, is going to be a blockbuster.
David Asman: It may be good for Viacom, but are the executives there going to lean on CBS to get more in tune with the public?
Melanie Wells: We can only hope.
Bob Lenzner: No, I don’t think so. I’m told that the whole solution was left up to [Les] Moonves (President and CEO of CBS) and [Matthew] Blank (CEO of Showtime), and the corporate people did not really get involved. That’s what they told me yesterday.
Makers & Breakers
• iStar Financial (SFI)
Barry Ritholtz, market strategist for the Maxim Group: MAKER
They are a high-end commercial bank. They’re structured as a REIT. It gives them a huge tax advantage when they borrow money. They have a nice, fat, 7 percent dividend yield. Management aims to raise the dividend 5-8 percent every year.
David Asman: They’re trading at about their high right now (Friday’s close: $39.17). When would you sell it?
Barrt Ritholtz: I would sell it in the mid-fifties. (Barry’s target price: $55). I think you can hold this for a few years pretty comfortably.
Elizabeth MacDonald: MAKER
This one’s a winner. I’m a maker on this stock. This stock is virtually printing money, it’s net profit margin’s about 45 percent. You picked a good one this week.
Jim Michaels: MAKER
That 7 percent yield, I can’t argue that. That belongs in people’s IRAs and 401k’s.
• Sycamore Networks (SCMR)
Barry Ritholtz: MAKER
Sycamore is an optical networker. It’s now widely despised on Wall Street. Everybody loved it when it was $200, now at $5-6 with almost $4 in cash, a billion dollars in cash and short-term securities, it’s a much lower risk, tech stock .
David Asman: It’s at about $6 now, (Friday’s close: $6.04), do you think it’s going to double?
Barry Ritholtz: I think you have a shot of $8-10 if you hold it for two years. (Barry’s target price: $10)
Jim Michaels: BREAKER
You know, you might get a “dead cat bounce” here, but this cat is pretty dead. Take the cash out, and you’re still paying half a billion dollars for a lousy business that has only two major customers and is bleeding money. I wouldn’t touch it.
Elizabeth MacDonald: BREAKER
I wouldn’t touch it either, because the chairman and CEO own a majority, a third of the shares. This stock has lost over $700 million in the last three fiscal years. It’s a stinker. You may as well go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas.
Barry Ritholtz: Sure, at one point in time they were hemorrhaging cash, they now have no debt, they’re break even, they just one a big part of a defense network contract. I think they’re going to win some more contracts going forward. I like it between $5-6.