In the short term, Sirius is benefiting from two big things it's doing to boost sales, and two more things it's doing to boost profits and its stock price. First-quarter net income was $105.7 million, or 2 cents a share. The gap between $1 billion-plus EBITDA and net income mostly reflects the $5.1 billion debt load at Sirius, whose controlling shareholder is Liberty Media's Malone, known for loading debt onto companies while plowing profits into share buybacks.
The biggest sales push now is to extend Sirius into the market for used cars, followed by the company's ongoing efforts to add more exclusive programming, such as upcoming channels for comedian Jeff Foxworthy and "Real Housewives" impresario Andy Cohen. Conversion rates for used-car buyers have been rising, a reflection of lower gas prices, Maxim Group analyst John Tinker said.
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The boost in revenue is moving straight toward Sirius' bottom line, because its largest expenses are for programming and don't change when more people sign up. A record 37 percent of sales moved down to profit before interest, taxes and noncash expenses, the company said. The model scales because only about 20 percent of Sirius' revenue goes for content, even though Stern makes a reported $80 million a year.
Sirius XM's market cap was neck-and-neck with Netflix before the most recent earnings sent Netflix shares up 35 percent, and yet it trades at one-third the price-to-earnings ratio of the Internet streaming company and 14 times estimated 2015 EBITDA, versus Netflix trading at 85 times its 2014 EBITDA (Netflix doesn't provide EBITDA guidance). Those aren't the only points of comparison between the two in which Sirius comes out looking favorable.
"Sirius generates a lot of its own content, but unlike Netflix, they don't pay a lot for it," Tinker said. Other than Stern, "these guys work in 3-foot by 3-foot cubicles, and that's a channel,'' he joked.
There's one stat where Sirius doesn't come out ahead: It's the most shorted stock on the Nasdaq. On a percentage basis, though, Netflix short bets represent 12 percent of its float (the shares that trade openly on the exchange), while for Sirius, the shorts are only 6 percent of its float.