Sirius XM Wows Market Investors with First Quarter Sub Growth

By | May 3, 2011 | Broadcasting, Feature

[Satellite News 05-03-11] Despite predictions by some financial analysts that Sirius XM Radio’s subscriber growth would dwindle in early 2011, the company far outpaced Wall Street’s net new subscriber growth expectations of 203,000 to reach 373,000 during the quarter, bringing its total customer base to 20.6 million users.
    On a conference call, Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin gave market investors even more good news by attributing his company’s growth to a healthy surge in new car sales. Sirius XM now enjoys a 118 percent, year-over-year growth in subscribers and a 9 percent increase in first quarter revenues at $724 million compared with first quarter 2010 revenues of $664 million.
    “SiriusXM’s first quarter results have put us on track to attain our full year goals for subscriber, revenue and adjusted EBITDA growth. Significantly, we are now in a position to raise our free cash flow estimate for the year. Consumers are buying cars again and demand for our product is strong. Were it not for the OEM supply chain uncertainty resulting from the tragedy in Japan, we would be in a position to raise our subscriber guidance today,” Karmazin said during the call.
    While the company’s stock took a premature hit during the quarter on predictions that Sirius XM’s operational costs would increase, the satellite broadcaster actually improved its subscriber acquisition costs by 3 percent, lowering its per gross subscriber expenses to just $57. Sirius XM’s churn stabilized at 2 percent in the first quarter 2011, which was even with its first quarter 2010 monthly average.
    “We operate in a highly competitive audio entertainment marketplace, where there are more choices than ever before, yet consumers continue to choose SiriusXM. We continue to invest in content, expand distribution and improve our technology to deliver the most compelling value proposition possible to consumers across the country," Karmazin said.
    Sirius XM ended the first quarter with $434 million of cash and cash equivalents after deploying approximately $135 million to repurchase debt. In April, the company repurchased approximately $74 million of its 3.25 percent convertible notes due this year via a cash tender offer, according to Sirius XM CFO David Frear. “We continue to make progress toward reaching our leverage target. Our net debt to adjusted EBITDA declined to 4.1x at the end of the first quarter of 2011 from 6.6x at the end of the first quarter of 2010.”
Frear said the improvements were driven by declines in satellite capital expenditures and improved adjusted EBITDA. Sirius’ net income in the first quarter of 2011 was $78 million compared with $42 million in the same period last year. 
    The company has had a busy start to the year. In February, Sirius XM announced that Canadian Satellite Radio Holdings (CSR) shareholders approved a merger of XM Canada with Sirius Canada, which would combine the country’s two satellite subscriber radio services. The merger, expected to close by the end of May pending CRTC approval, will see Sirius Canada become a 58 percent owner of CSR. Sirius Canada is a private company that is 40 percent owned by CBC Radio, 40 percent by Slaight Communications and 20 percent by Sirius XM.
    The company also gained its share of legal issued in the three-month period. In April, a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Sirius XM’s subscribers against the satellite broadcaster was approved for a May trial date by New York State District Court judge. According to lawsuit documents, subscribers accuse Sirius and XM of violating anti-monopoly laws following the merger of the two companies. Sirius Satellite Radio’s $5 billion acquisition of XM Satellite Radio Holdings faced strong opposition from consumer groups before the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the buyout in 2008. Subscribers said the new Sirius XM entity raised prices by as much as 40 percent after promising lower prices during proceedings with the FCC.
    Sirius XM radio DJ Howard Stern sued his employer in March for allegedly refusing to give him performance-based stock options that were promised in the $500 million contract he signed with the satellite radio broadcaster in 2004. Stern shortened his airtime schedule after filing his legal complaint.
    Karmazin said that, despite the company’s shaky press in recent months, Sirius XM’s performance throughout the quarter allows him to maintain his 2011 full-year projections. “In 2011, we continue to expect full-year revenue of approximately $3 billion. Our adjusted EBITDA projection remains at approximately $715 million. Full year self-pay churn and conversion rates for 2011 should be broadly similar to those seen in 2010, and we continue to expect to grow our net new subscribers by 1.4 million in 2011. Free cash flow in 2011 should approach $350 million as compared to previous guidance for free cash flow approaching $300 million.”

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