The Ledger: Music Stocks Are Rebounding at the End of a Rough Year
The Ledger is a weekly newsletter about the economics of the music business sent to Billboard Pro subscribers. An abbreviated version of the newsletter is published online.
After a miserable year for music stocks — and stocks in general — 2022 could end on a string of positive notes.
As rising interest rates have hammered stocks and erased big gains made during the pandemic, the Billboard Global Music Index, a float-adjusted group of 20 publicly traded music companies, is down 36.1% in 2022, and shares of vital companies such as Spotify and Warner Music Group are down 65.7% and 20.5%, respectively.
But in recent weeks, the momentum has reversed dramatically. The Billboard Global Music Index is up 12.6% over the last two weeks and 14.6% in the five weeks since Oct. 28.
Since Oct. 28, the week when music companies began to release third-quarter financial results, the stocks of major labels rose an average of 23.1%. Indie music companies — Reservoir Media, Believe, Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Round Hill Music Royal Fund — rose an average of 8.2% over that time period. K-pop companies from South Korea averaged a 16.1% improvement.
Part of music stocks’ rebound can be attributed to overall market sentiment. Stocks have improved in recent weeks — the New York Stock Exchange composite index is up 6.6% in the last five weeks and the S&P 500 is up 4.4% over that time. This week, stocks surged on Wednesday (Nov. 30) after Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said upcoming interest rate hikes will be smaller following “promising developments” in the Fed’s efforts to slow inflation. Stocks gave back some of those gains on Friday, however, after a solid U.S. jobs report showed a combination of strong hourly earnings and lower labor force participation. Higher wages erode corporations’ profits and persistent inflation could mean more rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.
But music companies have outperformed the broader stock markets thanks to solid third-quarter earnings results that met and occasionally exceeded expectations. In addition, many companies increased their fourth-quarter guidance when they announced third-quarter results. That tends to increase share prices as investors adjust upward their expectations for future performance.
Among the best performers of late has been Warner Music Group, whose shares improved 31.1% in the last five weeks. Last week, Warner beat analysts’ expectations for both revenue and earnings per share in the fiscal fourth quarter ended Sept. 30 and announced on Nov. 22. It posted revenue of $1.5 billion, up 16% year-over-year at constant currency (+9% as reported). Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, amortization and depreciation grew by 16% to $276 million.
Shares of Universal Music Group have risen 16.1% since Oct. 28. The day prior, UMG’s third-quarter earnings showed a 13.3% jump in revenue at constant currency. Sony Corp., the parent company of Sony Music Group, climbed 23.7% over the same period. Sony Music’s quarterly earnings, released on Nov. 1, showed 5.9% year-over-year revenue growth. Sony’s music division accounts for just 11.4% of the company’s consolidated revenue and 16.7% of its operating income while UMG and WMG are pure-play music companies.
Smaller labels and publishing companies have improved, too. Reservoir Media shares have climbed 14.9% over the five weeks, while shares of Believe rose 19.1% over five weeks but stumbled 7.8% in the last two weeks. Both companies raised guidance for their fourth quarter results. Korean music companies have also fared well: the shares of four K-pop-focused companies — HYBE, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment — rose an average of 16.1% in the last five weeks.
Labels’ and publishers’ financial results were augmented by positive news that suggests even stronger streaming revenue in 2023. According to WMG CEO Stephen Cooper during the company’s Nov. 22 earnings call, announcements of price increases by Apple Music [on Oct. 24] and Deezer “in the current economic environment shows that music subscription services offer amazing value to consumers. Music remains undervalued, but we’re optimistic that there will be other increases to come.”
Cooper was also encouraged by subscriber growth reported by streaming companies. Spotify exceeded expectations in the third quarter by adding seven million subscribers — 1 million more than its guidance. YouTube announced on Nov. 11 it had reached 80 million subscribers of YouTube Music and Premium just 14 months after surpassing the 50-million mark. “Developed markets continue to grow in the double digits while emerging markets are growing at higher percentages,” said Cooper. “With global smartphone penetration expected to increase meaningfully in the coming years, our conviction in streaming growth remains strong.”
While labels and publishers have surged, streaming companies have been mixed. On average, streaming companies’ stocks rose 24.4% over the last five weeks. The biggest gains came from much smaller Tencent Music Group and Cloud Music, up 101.6% and 28.4%, respectively — but both have relatively small floats and remain majority owned by Tencent and NetEase, respectively. Even smaller yet are Anghami (-3.1%) and Deezer (-1.5%). Spotify, one of the largest companies in the index, declined 3.7%.
Companies in the live and ticketing space haven’t fared as well as others, however. Live Nation shares are down 7.7% in the last five weeks, due mainly to a 7.5% drop following its third-quarter earnings release and a 10.3% decline on Nov. 18 following reports that the company was being investigated by the Department of Justice after its controversial presale for Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour. The latter was a short-lived dip, however, and Live Nation shares have reclaimed that lost ground and more by rising 11.6% in the last two weeks. Over five weeks, MSG Entertainment shares rose just 2% and Vivid Seats shares are off 1.2%. On the other hand, shares of German concert promoter CTS Eventim rose 27.7% over five weeks after posting strong third-quarter results and sounding more confident about full-year results than comments it made in its second-quarter earnings release.
Four radio companies — iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media, Audacy and Townsquare Media — have fared the worst, falling an average of 6.8% since Oct. 28. IHeartMedia, the largest radio company and a member of the Billboard Global Stock Index, fell 9% over that time.