Before current CEO Jeff Bewkes took over, it was assumed that Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) would be spun out. Bewkes managed to get over $9 billion from the transaction. That may have been priced into the shares when he stepped into the top job. The other major assumption of shareholders was that AOL would be repaired or sold. The internet unit has been divided into two pieces. The ISP operations will probably be sold to another internet service company. The fate of AOL remains unknown. There are rumors that it could be sold to Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) or Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).
Because internet display advertising is facing a downturn, sales at AOL will almost certainly suffer in the fourth quarter and into 2009. If Yahoo! is a reasonable proxy, the fact that it has lost half of its market cap this year and has been downgraded by several analysts cannot be good news for AOL.
Advertising weakness is bound to catch up to Time Warner's magazine unit. Print advertising may never recover entirely if the newspaper industry is any guide. Analysts have frequently said that the magazine unit should be sold. It is no longer a growth operation.
TWX cable units, like CNN, which rely on TV ads, are also certain to face an unpleasant if not vicious environment heading into the winter.
Investors in Time Warner are troubled for a simple reason: The company still looks too much like it did last year.
Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 247wallst.com.