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Recession And Media Sector: Which Stocks May Be "Best" Bets

Economic concerns are making Wall Street nervous about the media sector. Today analysts at Goldman Sachs and Sanford Bernstein issued negative reports on the broad media sector.

GS's Anthony Noto reduced estimates across communications, media and entertainment sectors. He says they're all economically sensitive sectors he says will be dragged down by the recession Goldman forecasts this year.

Noto's most concerned about radio broadcasting stocks and publishing and newspaper stocks: he has "sell" ratings on Sirius Satellite Radio and the New York Times Company . It makes sense- that's where the economy will really hurt ad revenues, and if people aren't buying new cars they won't be signing up for new Sirius subscriptions. On the other hand he's more optimistic about Internet and Telecom, with buys on Google and AT&T .

Sanford Bernstein is also worried about the economy: analyst Michael Nathanson thinks media stocks across the board aren't adequately discounted for a recession. The biggest hit would be CBS--it's the least diversified and the most reliant on TV advertising. He says in the worst case scenario the firm would revise CBS earnings estimates down by 20 percent and Disney down by 12 percent. He's more optimistic about News Corp and Time Warner .

Is it really so bad for media? I see that the industry faces a huge range of issues--a potential recession, the end of product cycles (like the DVD product cycle), the challenge of transitioning to new technologies and making them profitable, and then the writers' strike.

But these companies are also fairly diversified and parts of these companies, like the theatrical movie business, are traditionally recession proof. Plus, all these companies are more international than during previous economic downturns.

So I think these analysts have a good point, but if the media companies can figure out how to eke profits out of new digital revenue streams, there's hope. Speaking of which, I'm here at CES and this consumer electronics show is entirely connected to the issues addressed in those analyst notes. This is the era of conversion!

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.