Viacom Peaks on Upgrade

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Viacom ( VIA) shares hit a 52-week high today after Davenport analyst Michael Morris upped his rating on the stock to a buy from a hold.

Shares spiked to a 52-week high of $47.91 this morning after Morris improved his rating on the stock, citing the company's recent gain in ratings.

Its well-performing reality program, The Jersey Shore, recently helped MTV close out 2010 with its largest year-over-year ratings gain since 1999. In the fourth quarter of 2010, the network saw a 24% increase in ratings from the same period a year earlier, marking its fourth consecutive quarter of growth.

The third season premiere of The Jersey Shore on Jan. 6, 2011 delivered a record-breaking 8.5 million total viewers and ranked as MTV's most-watched series telecast ever.

However Morris sees evidence that the improvement in ratings is due to more than MTV's "one-hit wonder."

"The broad-based success at MTV... indicates that improvements are a function of a portfolio of ideas rather than a single program," Morris said in his Jan. 12 research note.

Morris believes that Viacom will continue to peak to new highs. He upgraded his 12-month price target on the stock to $50 from $38, due to expected advertising growth and strengthened content branding.

JP Morgan analyst Imran Khan recently upped his first-quarter 2011 domestic advertising revenue growth projection to 10% from his previously estimated 9%, driven by ad pricing and solid ratings.

He predicts that that Viacom's networks division will continue to benefit from ratings growth at MTV and Comedy Central.

"Looking ahead, we think continued strength at MTV will be driven by Jersey Shore 3," Imran said in his Jan. 10 research note, "as well as new original scripted programming set to air in the first-quarter of 2011."

His fourth-quarter 2010 earnings estimate remains at 99 cents a share while his total 2011 earnings estimate rose 2 cents to $3.29 a share due to "revised buyback assumptions." He maintined his buy rating on the stock and his price target of $48.50.

Viacom shares are currently up 0.4% trading at $47.50.

--Written by Theresa McCabe in Boston.

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