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NFL's cratering ratings may be starting to hit Fox's bottom line

Tae Kim
Credit Suisse lowers its price target and earnings per share forecasts for Twenty-First Century Fox, citing Fox's poor Sunday NFL ratings.

Declining football game television ratings will cut into Twenty-First Century Fox's earnings, according to one Wall Street firm.

Credit Suisse lowered its price target and earnings per share forecasts for the media company, citing Fox's poor Sunday NFL ratings.

"We trim our 2018/19 EPS forecasts … ahead of Q1 earnings," analyst Omar Sheikh wrote in a note to clients Thursday. "The key near term headwinds are soft NFL ratings and the risk that the Sky transaction is blocked by UK regulators."

Fox is seeking to acquire the 61 percent of European pay-TV company Sky it does not already own.

Sheikh maintained his outperform rating on Twenty-First Century Fox shares, but reduced his price target to $35 from $37. The new forecast represents 34 percent upside to Wednesday's close.

The analyst said Fox's Sunday NFL game TV ratings declined 7 percent year over year during the first five weeks of the season.

"NFL ratings [are] weak so far," he wrote. "This was negatively impacted during the first 2 weeks by hurricane disruption, but is disappointing given the soft comps – if ratings do not improve materially, we see a potential headwind to domestic advertising revenues in Q2/Q3 '18."

As a result, Sheikh reduced his first-quarter earnings per share estimate for the company to 46 cents from 48 cents. He also lowered his forecasts for fiscal 2018 and 2019 earnings per share by 1 percent.

President Donald Trump has claimed on social media that NFL television ratings are declining due to the controversy over players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

Twenty-First Century Fox is slated to report fiscal first-quarter earnings on Nov. 8.

The company's stock has underperformed the market this year with its shares down 7 percent in 2017 through Wednesday, compared with the S&P 500's 14 percent return.

Shares of Twenty-First Century Fox are up 0.3 percent midday Thursday.

— Reuters contributed to this report.