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Broadband Seen as Haven as Investors Seek Stability

Kamaron Leach

(Bloomberg) -- The broadband sector could become a safe haven for investors looking to store cash in the event of a financial crisis.

Demand for internet access will be recession-proof, if history is an indicator. A Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis from 2009 to 2010 showed total household spending declined year-over-year while computer information and cable services spending increased. That may be even more the case now amid the coronavirus outbreak, as many Americans are working remotely from home and relying on streaming services like Netflix Inc. for entertainment.

“The criticality of broadband has increased since the global financial crisis,” Gregory Williams, an analyst covering cable and satellite services at Cowen, said in a note to clients. It’s “now considered a fairly price inelastic utility-like necessity.”

AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Altice USA Inc. are among the long list of potential benefactors providing internet-based services across the U.S. Pure-play businesses like Charter are seen best positioned for upside. Shares of the Stamford, Connecticut-based company have fallen just 8% since the beginning of the year, compared to a 20% decline in the S&P 500 Index.

Michael McKenzie, managing director of private investment firm Grain Management, said that broadband connections grew 15% from 2008 to 2009. While there’s no guarantee that will happen this time, the sector is likely to fare better than cable or entertainment peers as consumers look to cut discretionary spending.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that [broadband connectivity] declines in a recession,” McKenzie said in an interview. It “should be a safe bet” given its historic stability, he said.

McKenzie said there may be some “depressed” spending in certain sectors like hospitality. But in general, stocks linked to mobile network operators and tower owners will “tend to benefit from what we see coming out of this crisis.”

(Corrects broadband connection growth in fifth paragraph.)

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