Updated from April 26.
Despite President Donald Trump's numerous gripes about media coverage of his campaign and presidency, the sector has been on a roll since the New York real estate baron was inaugurated on Jan. 20.
TV station owners have led the way in Trump's first 100 days, with Tribune Media (TRCO) , the subject or takeover speculation, at the very top with a 27% gain. Next in line was Sinclair Broadcasting (SGBI) , known as much for its conservative, pro-Republican politics as for owning more local TV stations than any other U.S. company, having added 25%, according to Bloomberg data. Completing a trifecta for TV-station groups was Tegna (TGNA) at 19%.
All three stocks have surged on expectations that Trump's Federal Communications Commission, headed by former Verizon (VZ) attorney Ajit Pai, will loosen rules aimed at preventing concentrated media ownership. And, indeed, he already has.
Pai's FCC voted recently to reinstate the so-called UHF discount that gives companies such as Sinclair more room to make acquisitions. A day after the FCC vote, Sinclair and a sister entity revealed an agreement to purchase 18 more TV stations.
For similar reasons, Tribune Media has jumped since the inauguration, fueled in part on reports that Sinclair is close to a formal deal to acquire the owner of Chicago's WGN and other large-market TV stations. Tribune Media dismissed Peter Liguori as CEO in January as past of reassessing his strategy of producing original, and expensive, content for cable network WGN America.
Tegna, meanwhile, has easily outpaced newspaper publisher Gannett (GCI) , which spun off the TV station group in June 2015. Gannett shares have dropped 12.5% since the inauguration.
Not all publishers, however, have fared so poorly.
Trump nemesis New York Times Co. (NYT) , for example, has enjoyed a spirited 100 days, with its shares gaining 8.2%. The same can be said for News Corp. (NWSA) , owner of The Wall Street Journal, which saw its stock gain 5.6%. Both legacy newspaper publishers have benefited from an emphasis on selling digital subscriptions to offset declines in both print advertising and print circulation; other publishers such as Gannett haven't figured out how to create a paywall without jeopardizing readership.
The New York Times in February passed the three million subscription threshold, easily eclipsing its high-water circulation mark. And while the industrywide decline in print ad sales was to blame for the company's 2% decline in revenue for 2016, the addition of 276,000 new digital subscribers in the fourth quarter alone gave investors -- and my colleague Ken Doctor -- reason to hope that 2017 might produce the first sales increase in three years.
As for The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper had 1.1 million digital subscribers at the end of 2016, a 25% increase from the prior year. More importantly, News Corp is getting more of its revenue -- 27% -- from digital subscriptions and subscriptions.
Digital subscriptions bolstered the performance of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. even while his 21st Century Fox (FOXA) has sputtered in the wake of repeated accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace of Fox News, the longtime cable TV ratings leader known for its conservative commentary. Fox shares have gained a mere 2.5% since Trump's inauguration despite the president heaping praise on its Fox News division and former star anchor Bill O'Reilly.
By comparison, the benchmark S&P 500 index has gained 5.3% since the close on Jan. 19.Other strong media performers since the inauguration include Charter Communications ( CHTR) , the cable TV operator that closed its acquisition of Time Warner Cable last year. Charter shares were bolstered by a Journal report in late January that Verizon was exploring an acquisition, a prospect that the Obama administration might have rejected out of hand. Early indications from the Trump administration, however, are that the Republican is more likely to accede to the traditional wishes of large corporations than act on the populist pledges of his presidential campaign.
Charter has gained 12.7% since Trump took office.
Among the major media conglomerates, the 100 days of Donald Trump have been a mixed bag. Viacom (VIAB) shares have gained 6.9%, outperforming the stocks of its chief rivals, Disney (DIS) , Comcast (CMCSA) and Fox. The owner of Nickelodeon and MTV has seen its stock jump on new CEO Bob Bakish's many moves to remake a company that had sputtered in recent years.
Disney has gained 7.8% as box office records for films including Beauty and the Beast offset layoffs and long-term concerns about ESPN, its largest source of profit. Comcast, owner of NBCUniversal which posted first quarter earnings this week that handily beat Wall Street expectations, has added 8% to its shares.
To be sure, Donald Trump's presence in the White House won't make it any easier for owners of cable TV networks to figure out how to arrest accelerating declines in subscribers. That's a problem that predates his move to the White House.
But for the first 100 days of his administration, Donald Trump has been good for media stocks.
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