Media

4 Top Merrill Lynch Media Stock Picks to Buy Now

The more that content becomes king as the Internet expands and grows, the more the top media companies continue to push their dominance in the sector. A new research report from Merrill Lynch makes the case that a major broadcast network could be a part of a huge mergers and acquisition (M&A) proposition.

Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen and her team make the case that a recombination of CBS and Viacom could be in the works. They also speculate on the possibility of a sale of CBS to Time Warner. That prompted us to scan the Merrill Lynch list of media stocks rated Buy that could also hold big value for investors now.

CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS), as we mentioned, is a very real candidate for an M&A play, and it is also a top stock to Buy now at Merrill Lynch. CBS may be in the best position of all the broadcast networks but was a large cap laggard in 2014. With an outstanding prime time lineup, solid sports franchises like the NFL, March Madness College Basketball, The Masters and other top programming, the venerable network has been an outstanding stock for long-term shareholders. It has shown tremendous ratings strength and is poised to continue the its programming dominance in 2015. The broadcasting giant is now in the midst of a significant stock repurchase process, and many on Wall Street expect CBS to shrink its share base by up to 25% over the next two years.

CBS investors are paid a 1% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target for the stock is $70. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $63. CBS closed Monday at $61.75 a share.

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Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) is a member of the Merrill Lynch US 1 list and is growing earnings substantially with extremely strong content revenue growth. Increased revenue at NBCUniversal is also giving the company some earnings tailwinds, and a growing sports lineup is adding to revenues. This is all in addition to the effort to purchase Time Warner Cable in a massive $45 billion deal that over the past year has drawn intense scrutiny from some who believe it is extremely anti-competitive. Many analysts feel that the acquisition helps Comcast directly challenge the major carriers and satellite for bundled service supremacy, and ultimately it will be completed, with a decision possible by the end of this month.

Comcast investors are paid a 1.7% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $70, and the consensus estimates is $65.87. The stock closed trading Monday at $59.87 a share.

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) is one of the top quarterly ideas at Merrill Lynch, and it also resides on the US 1 list. Disney is a leading consumer media company with multiple streams of income to push revenue, and many Wall Street analysts see the stock outperforming on a near- and long-term basis. With the movie studio business poised to improve, as with accelerating theme park business, the network programming continues to drive viewership with extensive sports programming on ESPN. Combining that revenue growth with the company’s solid media networks and interactive presence, and 2015 revenues could be outstanding.

Disney shareholders are paid a 1.2% dividend. The Merrill Lynch price target is $120, and the consensus target is $105.38. Shares closed at $105.89.

Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) is another top stock to buy at Merrill Lynch, and with good reason. With a wide number of entertainment brands (TNT, TBS, CNN, HBO, Cinemax, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, People, Sports Illustrated, Time) Time Warner also offers investors diversity in earnings with a multitude of revenue silos. The Merrill Lynch team in making the case for a Time Warner purchase of CBS note all the vast venues the company owns as one of the reasons the purchase would make sense.

Time Warner investors are paid a 1.7% dividend. Merrill Lynch posts a $95 price target on the stock, and the consensus target is lower at $93. Time Warner closed Monday at $82.77.

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The advantage to owning these stocks is they are almost always decent growth stories and virtually recession proof. Entertainment is one of the few things people will stick with when the economy going gets tough. The economy actually appears to be slowly, but surely improving in the United States.