Taking Stock Of LN

With Live Nation reaching the six-month mark since its spin-off from Clear Channel Communications, some financial analysts were asked by Investor’s Business Daily to take stock of the fledgling company’s early performance. And the reviews are mostly positive.

And why not? The company’s stock value has nearly doubled from $11 per share at its December 22nd New York Stock Exchange opening to $21.96 at its June 22nd closing. In late May, it flirted with the $25 mark. Investors are clearly jumping on the bandwagon.

“Retail investors think it’s exciting to be in a business like this,” Miller Tabak + Co. analyst David Joyce told Investor’s Business Daily.

Sure, for the uninitiated, owning a piece of concert tours by Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Barbra Streisand might be exciting – until one considers the typical profit margin.

“It’s a very low-margin business,” Joyce said. “In a nutshell, they have very little room for error on their operations.”

Live Nation earned 2 cents a share during the first quarter, up from a loss the prior year. Sales grew 16 percent to $516.6 million. Second quarter financials are expected to be released in early August.

Of the first quarter’s $8.1 million in operating income, $7.7 million came from the sale of its Los Angeles-based sports agency business to Arn Tellum. Live Nation had an operating loss of $27.5 million the previous year.

With the summer shed season at hand, Live Nation is being watched closely thanks to its venue roster comprising most of the large amphitheatres in the country – particularly after last year’s flat numbers.

There’s other reasons to keep one’s eyes on Live Nation in the coming months.

The company is reportedly looking to renegotiate the terms of a contract with F&B concessionaire Aramark, which expires next year, according to Investor’s Business Daily.

Live Nation is also in a position to play hardball with Ticketmaster over ticket sale fees when that contract reportedly expires in 2008. It’s believed that LN is interested in developing its own ticketing system, and stoked the speculative fires when it brought in former Tickets.com technology exec Joe Manna to work on software development, information technology, tech infrastructure and network operations.

Live Nation has also reportedly retained real estate consultants to review its holdings and consider selling off some properties.

Joyce told Investor’s Business Daily he estimates the book value of Live Nation’s real estate holdings at $597 million, double what it was in 2000. He also notes LN’s London operation gained a long-term management and promotion contract with Wembley Arena this year.

The analyst gives Live Nation decent reviews, at least on the earnings front. He told the trade paper he estimates the company will earn 88 cents a share this year, then grow earnings to 98 cents a share in 2007.