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Music Companies Are Not Immune From Sliding Stock Market

Live music stocks have fared relatively well so far in 2022. Streaming stocks not so much.

The stock market’s downturn in recent weeks has hit music with mixed results: bad, badder and baddest. For all their troubles, music stocks don’t always look bad compared to major retailers like Target, which lost 30.2% this week, and Terra, the cryptocurrency that went bust last week.

For example, take the concert business, which was hammed by COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020 and was one of the last industries to returned to life in 2022. Since then, live music and ticketing companies have performed relatively well. On average, Live Nation, CTS Eventim, MSG Entertainment, Eventbrite and Vivid Seats share prices have dropped only 18.9% this year — about the same as the S&P 500’s 18.2% decline and better than the Nasdaq’s 27.2% deficit (although not as good as the New York Stock Exchange composite’s 12.5% drop in 2022).

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Over the last four weeks, these stocks have fallen 10.2%, outpacing the S&P 500 (down 8.7%) and NYSE composite (down 6.4%).

Not all sectors have fared as well.

Music streaming companies have performed very poorly — in part because they had so far to fall. Spotify, Anghami, Tencent Music Entertainment and Cloud Village have fallen 46.1% year to date and 8.0% since April 22 (about four weeks). In general, the streaming business model has lost some luster as investors realized gains made during the pandemic weren’t just unsustainable but threatened by high inflation.

As a point of comparison, streaming video on-demand stocks (Netflix, Roku, Warner Bros. Discovery, Walt Disney, Comcast) have fallen 9.4% and 40.1% since April 22 and year-to-date, respectively. The bellwether here is Netflix, which reported a decline in subscribers in the first quarter and warned of more losses in the current quarter. Music companies have tried to distance music subscription services from SVOD platforms that compete on original content and are arguably more susceptible to churn. Music services might temper their growth expectations, music executives said, but they’re more stable than SVOD services.

Still, Spotify’s subscription growth has not pleased investors, either. The company’s shares are down 54.8% in 2022, although the Thursday’s (May 19) $105.79 closing price is well above the all-time low of $89.03 set on May 12. Anghami’s first earnings report on Tuesday showed encouraging double-digit year-over-year growth. That put Anghami shares up 1.5% this week, although they’re down 26.6% this year. And TME and Cloud Village are special cases: While they are growing their subscription businesses, they face unique challenges from Chinese regulators, and TME is subject to a U.S. law that will de-list foreign companies that don’t allow U.S. authorities to audit their books.

In general, music is seen as a sturdy, countercyclical business that maintains consumer spending during recessions, leaving it unaffected by wider market trends. But even its bread and butter — copyrights — have gotten burnt this year. Labels and publishers Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Believe, Reservoir Media, HYBE, Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Round Hill Music Royalty Fund have collectively fallen 10.4% in the four weeks since April 22 and 20.1% year to date. The companies' fundamentals remain strong, and streaming's prospects remain bright, but in today's economy, investors are more concerned about margins and profitability than pure growth.

Among these companies, the stabler royalty funds — Hipgnosis and Round Hill — which raise money to invest in relatively steady and predictable assets, have performed well amid the downturn: Hipgnosis has dropped only 1.9% and Round Hill's down just 3.1% so far this year.

Otherwise, the best performer of the bunch has been Universal Music Group —down 15.6% over the past four weeks and down 19.4% so far this year. Meanwhile, French distributor/label Believe (down 21.4% since April 22, down 42.2% year to date) and South Korea's HYBE (down 14.1% since April 22, down 37.4% year to date) have fared the worst. Take away Hipgnosis and Round Hill, and these label and publishers have collectively lost 27.0% year-to-date.

Radio companies iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media, Audacy and Townsquare Media have fallen an average of 24.4% since April 22, almost double the Nasdaq's 10.7% decline and more than three times the New York Stock Exchange composite's 6.7% drop over that time period. Radio companies are particularly sensitive to economic swings because they subsist mainly on advertising revenues. As witnessed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, when brands pull back on advertising spending, radio companies will suffer the consequences.

A Barrington analyst lowered the earnings per share estimate for iHeartMedia on May 11. Earlier in May, B. Riley and JPMorgan Chase analysts lowered their iHeartMedia price targets to $36 and $19, respectively, and Zacks Investment Research downgraded the stock from a "buy" rating to "hold." Cumulus has followed a different trajectory. Following news that Cumulus rejected a takeover bid in the $15 to $17 per share range, the company's share price jumped from $10.16 on April 13 to $15.10 on April 25, although it fell below $13 and closed at $12.67 on Thursday. In the last four weeks, Cumulus shares are up 12.6%.

Still, these four radio stocks' average year-to-date decline is just 18.9% about the same as the S&P 500's 18.2% drop and better than the Nasdaq's 27.2% deficit.