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Lack of Presidential Campaign Ads Hurts Broadcasters’ Shares

September 20, 2016, 8:08 PM UTC
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds Rally In Phoenix
Photograph by Ralph Freso—Getty Images

(Reuters) – Shares of U.S. TV and radio broadcasters fell sharply on Tuesday after Sinclair Broadcast Group warned that its third-quarter media revenue would miss its targets due to low political advertising spending rates including from the Trump campaign.

Sinclair shares fell 9%, as did shares of Gray Television (GTN-A), while E.W. Scripps (SNI) fell 8% and Nexstar Broadcasting (NXST) was down about 4% after Sinclair warned that political spending would be almost a third lower than the high end of its previous forecast range.

Broadcasters typically expect a revenue windfall in a U.S. presidential election year as candidates spend heavily on advertising. Sinclair’s warning came ahead of the expected release on Tuesday night of campaign spending information.

Sinclair said that while it previously anticipated a decline in presidential ad spending based on late fundraising by the campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump, it has yet to see significant spending even at the levels it initially expected.

Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS, downplayed Sinclair’s warning in remarks at an investor conference in New York.

“We have no revenue warnings here,” Moonves said at Goldman Sach’s Communicopia Conference. “While Mr. Trump does not appear to be spending much, there is a lot of advertising on the senatorial and congressional issues.”

Moonves said CBS’s political ad spending is up, particularly in California and Pennsylvania, an important state for the national election. “We have no worries,” he said.

CBS (CBS) shares were down 1.4% in afternoon trading after falling as much as 3.76% earlier.

Daniel Kurnos, an analyst at The Benchmark Co, said investors may be over reacting as Sinclair typically derives 60% of its political revenue in the fourth quarter – in which the general election falls – compared with 25% for the third quarter.

“Several companies here are unfairly punished by what could be a timing shift,” he said referring to Nexstar and Meredith Corp, which fell 3.4%.

In addition to the lower-than-expected spending by the Trump campaign, Sinclair cited a decline in ad spending by an unidentified political group and said that in Ohio, a key state for the company, political spending “dropped drastically” as recent polls reflect a widening margin between Senate candidates.

“A historically large political advertiser” said it would “direct their funds to organizing voters rather than towards campaign funding,” according to Sinclair.

Sinclair rescinded its full-year political revenue estimate of $260 million to $280 million, which was based on an extrapolation of 2008 and 2012 political revenue.

“While we are hopeful that the close polling between Trump and Clinton results in the campaigns and PACs increasing their ad spend, there can be no assurances this will materialize given the unusual nature of this year’s election,” it said.

Sinclair, whose shares hit their lowest level since February, cut its estimate for political spending to $46 million from its previous range of $58 million to $68 million.

It revised its third-quarter revenue forecast to a range of $637 million to $638 million. That’s below its previous range announced on Aug. 3 of $649.2 million to $663.2 million.

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Sinclair shares fell $2.68 to $26 while Gray shares dropped $1.01 to $10.25 on track for their biggest daily percentage decline since May. E.W. Scripps stock was down $1.33 at $15.01.