You might want to pay attention to
offer to buy
unit and make itself the nation's biggest cable-TV operator. After all, the company is doing it with your money.
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On Sunday, Comcast
offered to pay $44.5 billion in stock and assume $13.5 billion in debt for AT&T's sluggish broadband unit,
sending the would-be buyer's shares down 7.1% and the former Ma Bell's shares up 11.8% on Monday. The unsolicited (and some say steep) bid, coming after failed negotiations with the sputtering telecom giant, doesn't lack chutzpah, as Comcast is trying to vault over
AOL Time Warner
and into the cable-TV industry's catbird seat.
With a few notable exceptions, the institutional folks like the parameters of the deal and think Comcast can make it work. Main Street investors are intimately involved because stock mutual funds -- including several
funds -- have made big bets on Comcast's shares, accounting for a whopping 32% stake in the company.
Here's why: Most stocks typically end up in either growth- or value-oriented stock funds, but thanks to years of solid returns, Comcast has fans in both camps. Growth managers typically focus on the often-pricey shares of companies with outsize earnings growth, while value managers are Wall Street's bargain-hunters. But Comcast, a family-run business with a solid track record for wringing more profits from each subscriber than its competitors, was a holding in a third of all big-cap growth funds and more than 22% of big-cap value funds at the end of May, according to the most recent data from
It's easy to see why fund managers are smitten. After all, their paychecks are tied to their performance vs. their peers and benchmarks like the
, and Comcast's shares have helped many stay ahead of both taskmasters. Over the past five years the company's shares are averaging a 39.1% annual gain, which laps the S&P 500 twice and more than triples the gains of the average big-cap growth and value funds, according to Morningstar.
Source: Morningstar. Returns through July 6.
Given the size of their bets on the stock, however, fund managers could sink its shares if they decide the Roberts family is paying too much. The question is: Can Comcast monetize AT&T's 22 million subscribers as well as it has monetized its current 8.5 million customers?
Both a growth manager and a value manager at San Francisco-based
Transamerica Investment Management
like the deal after huddling on Monday.
"The thing to focus on is the spread in profitability between Comcast and this AT&T asset. Comcast's profit margins are in the low 40s and AT&T's are in the high teens or around 20%. It seems to me they're paying a reasonable price if they can raise
AT&T Broadband's profitability close to their own. It's not an easy task, but they're capable of doing it," says Dan Prislin, co-manager of the
Transamerica Premier Value fund, which had more than 4% of its money in Comcast shares at the end of May.
Jeff Van Harte, a growth manager whose
Transamerica Premier Equity fund had more than 5% of its money in Comcast, agrees.
"They've done a lot of work on this. They specifically went line item by line item in the conference call, telling you what improvements they think they can make," he says. On Monday, Comcast management told Wall Street it expects it can slash AT&T Broadband's corporate overhead from $500 million to $50 million annually and halve marketing costs, among several cost-cutting plans.
Van Harte says he and Prislin aren't raising or cutting their Comcast positions on Monday's news.
Not everyone is so certain that the Roberts family savvy will make the dear bid a bargain.
"No one denies that Comcast is a superb cable operator; I think they're the best. But I think you've got to call a spade a spade, and they're overpaying," says Todd Bernier, an analyst who covers the company at Morningstar, which doesn't have an underwriting business.
No matter the outcome -- good, bad or ugly -- millions of fund shareholders are along for the ride. The funds run by Denver growth shop Janus owned almost 11% of Comcast's shares at the end of the first quarter, the most recent data available from
. At the end of April, the shop's flagship
Janus fund owned 4.9% of the company, while the
Janus Worldwide and
Janus Mercury funds owned a combined 1.7% of the firm. In sum, Janus managers slightly reduced their Comcast stake in the first three months of this year. (The company declined to comment on the deal.)
Because Comcast only accounts for 0.4% of the S&P 500, even a 1% position in a fund's portfolio represents a decent bet vs. that benchmark. A list of the 10 funds with the highest percentage of their shareholders' money in Comcast turns up several funds whose managers are pulling for this deal to bear fruit.
Whether they know it or not, shareholders of these funds and many others have put their faith in the Roberts family too.
Fund Junkie runs every Monday and Wednesday, as well as occasional dispatches. Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to
firstname.lastname@example.org, but he cannot give specific financial advice.