Comcast Snaps Up 30% of Sky But Questions Over $40 Billion Price Tag Linger

Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)  rebounded modestly Tuesday after the group said it had acquired around 30% of the outstanding shares of Britain's Sky Plc (SKYAY)  since winning the right to buy the broadcaster in a in three round auction that topped rivals Walt Disney Co. (DIS) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA)  but raised investor concern over the $40 billion price tag.

Comcast, which has until October 11 to convince Sky shareholders to accept its winning £17.28 per share bid, which topped the best-and-final offer of £15.67 from Disney/Fox and valued the group at £30.6 billion ($40.2 billion), said Tuesday that it has purchased just under 516 million Sky shares in the open market, taking their holding past 30% and triggering a mandatory move to buy at least 50%, plus one share, of the London-based broadcaster.

Comcast shares were marked around 1% higher in pre-market trading, following a 6% slump on Monday, to indicate an opening bell price of $35.98 each. Sky shares rose around 0.4% by late morning in London and were changing hands at the Comcast bid price of £17.28 each, a move that extends their year-to-date gain to 72.4% and some 80% since the Fox made its first approach to buy the whole of the broadcaster in December 2016.

However, with Disney set to hold a 39% stake in Sky following its $71.3 billion takeover of Fox, and activist shareholders such as Elliot Management perhaps content to hold onto their investments, Comcast may still fall short of the 50% threshold before the October 11 expiry date and could be stuck between paying a high price for Sky but not having complete control over Europe's biggest pay TV broadcaster, despite a ringing endorsement from the target.

"It is in the best interests of all Sky Shareholders to accept the (Comcast offer)," Sky said Monday. "Accordingly, the Sky Independent Committee unanimously recommends that Sky Shareholders accept the (Comcast offer), and in order to ensure the successful closing, and given the possibility of a delisting of Sky in the near future, urges shareholders to accept immediately."

Several options are now on the table for the Disney/Fox stake, which is valued at around $15.7 billion based on Comcast's mandatory $40.2 billion offer. 

Disney also has the option of holding on to its stake even if Comcast prevails, a tactic which would allow it to wait-out changes in the global streaming and media landscape, particularly following next year's EU exit by the United Kingdom and the evolving regulations on data privacy and media hegemony from both London and Brussels. It could also opt to swap its stake for Comcast's 30% holding in streaming service provider Hulu, which is 60% owned by Disney, or sell its Sky stake and use the $15.7 billion in proceeds to reduce the debt it was forced to take on when it purchased the Fox media assets from Rupert Murdoch earlier this year.

The Action Alerts Plus team, however, has argued that the options available cloud the fact that Comcast has scored a major victory in besting its rival for a key European asset critical to its overseas expansion.  

"While the win-win scenario was not played out immediately, we still think it will be the case ... we believe shares should be incrementally bought off this weakness because the company is now set to acquire a key, internationally based growth asset," the team said Monday. "This wasn't a short-term move. Roberts did this deal to become a major player in both the U.S. and abroad, and as a long-term shareholder, we like the deal."

More from Markets

Nutrisystem Soars on Deal to Be Acquired by Tivity Health

Nutrisystem Soars on Deal to Be Acquired by Tivity Health

Economist Perspective: Can U.S. Dollar Keep Its Momentum in 2019?

Economist Perspective: Can U.S. Dollar Keep Its Momentum in 2019?

Monday Madness: Apple's Looking Pretty Bruised

Monday Madness: Apple's Looking Pretty Bruised

Stocks End Day in the Green as Dow, S&P Overcome Slow Starts

Stocks End Day in the Green as Dow, S&P Overcome Slow Starts

These Bank Stocks Could Be Oversold in the Market Wreckage

These Bank Stocks Could Be Oversold in the Market Wreckage