Comcast (CMCSA) is a global leader in cable, and it is seeking to expand its reach in media even further with the acquisition of 21stCentury Fox (FOXA) and British satellite broadcaster Sky. However, to do so, it would be digging itself into a massive financial trench.
To acquire Sky, it would have to beat Disney (DIS) with a $31 billion bid, which would be financed by debt entirely. And to purchase Fox, they would need to borrow as much as $60 billion to out-bid Disney. Comcast already has $61 billion in outstanding debt, so the acquisition of both of these companies would bring them to a gargantuan $164 billion in debt.
According to Moody’s Investors Service, this is the highest amount of debt of any company, including the second-highest AT&T. Its debt is roughly 2.5 times as high as its income each year, and these acquisitions would bump that figure up to 4.1 times its income.
Additionally, this is not an ideal time to take on so much debt. Interest rates are rising, which makes borrowing costs high, and refinancing this debt in the future will likely be even more expensive. Plus, economists forecast a recession in the next couple years, which would hurt Comcast’s profits, consequently making it even harder for them to pay off their debt.
So, with all of this risk, why does Comcast want Sky and Fox so badly? Well, the acquisition of Fox is a little more obvious – with the control of Fox’s studios and profitable movie franchises like X-Men, Avatar, The Maze Runner, and Ice Age, Comcast can breach a market it could originally never touch. Plus, it gets Fox News, Fox Sports, and FX, will all generate a lot of revenue. And if the deal didn’t seem sweet enough after all of that, Comcast would also receive Fox’s 30% share in Hulu, the media-streaming service that rivals Netflix.
Clearly, Fox is a wise acquisition for Comcast if they are willing to take on that debt, but what about Sky? The pay-TV services in many parts of Western Europe is the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom. There are many opportunities for foreign expansion, and both Comcast and Disney see that, as they are in a tight bidding war for the company.
But the likelihood of this Comcast-Fox deal is far from certain. First, Comcast claims that it would likely only pursue the deal if the AT&T-Time Warner acquisition passes in court. And even then, it is most likely not the best move for Comcast. Although an AT&T-Time Warner deal would be a nightmare of competition, Comcast still can’t really afford this deal, no matter which way they try to make ends meet.
Comcast could try to use stocks to purchase Fox, but their share value is low, rating at a 21% decrease since the beginning of the year. Thus, borrowing money is really their only option at this point, and if it does want to do a Hail Mary on this deal, it would drastically limit its options in the future. Their credit rating would be shot, and this would be their last large amount of borrowing for a while, until it can repay chunks of the $164 billion.
Comcast is one of the biggest cable providers in the nation, and if AT&T can successfully acquire Time Warner, then some drastic measures may need to be made. However, with all factors considered, Comcast cannot reasonably manage almost $200 billion of debt, and in the long run, it could do more damage than good to their company.
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