Shares of radio and podcast giant iHeartMedia kicked up to all-time highs Tuesday, fueled by an about-face by a formerly bearish analyst who now forecasts an advertising resurgence for the company.
On Tuesday, iHeartMedia’s stock closed at $19.79 per share, up +13.2% for the day. That came after BofA Securities analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich issued a report upping her rating on iHeartMedia from “underperform” to “buy” and raised the 12-month price target on the stock to $26/share.
Advertising will “come roaring back over the next several months,” Ehrlich wrote in a research note, predicting that iHeartMedia’s adjusted earnings will return to 2019 levels by year end.
iHeartMedia stands to benefit from a return to ad spending by small and midsize businesses and parts of the entertainment industry, after more than a year under COVID-19 lockdown, the analyst said. In addition, Ehrlich expects drive-time radio listening this month to double vs. last year as more commuters hit the road, and cited iHeart’s strong digital revenue growth primarily driven by podcasting. The pent-up demand for live entertainment also will help iHeartMedia, she predicted.
For full-year 2020, iHeartMedia report revenue of $2.95 billion, down 20% year over year. Digital revenue increased 26% compared with 2019, including a 91% increase in podcasting revenue. The company posted adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $538.7 million for 2020, a decline of 46% from the year earlier. In 2021, BofA Securities’ Ehrlich is modeling adjusted EBITDA of $798 million (vs. the analyst firm’s previous estimate of $744 million).
In July 2019, iHeartMedia shares started trading on NASDAQ after the company exited a year-long bankruptcy reorg. The stock lost two-thirds of its value in the spring of 2020, at the front end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Formerly known as Clear Channel, iHeartMedia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2018 after amassing the more than $20 billion in debt following a leveraged buyout a decade earlier.
iHeartMedia is now organized into three segments: the Digital Audio Group, which includes digital assets including podcasting; the iHeartMedia Multiplatform Group, which includes more than 860 broadcast radio stations, networks, and sponsorships and events businesses; and Audio & Media Services Group. Starting with Q1 2021, the company will report results for each segment. According to the company the Digital Audio business represented approximately 16% of consolidated revenue and approximately 24% of its earnings for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020.