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Could Apple's TV plans spell trouble for Comcast, DirecTV?

Michael Santoli
Michael Santoli

Here are three things you should keep an eye on while trading today.

Number 1:

Your trading guide for the next couple of days might as well be a thesaurus.

The only suspense built up over the Fed policy meeting that runs from today into tomorrow is whether the word “patient” will be removed and if so, what might replace it.

The predominant thinking among parsers of Fed encyclicals is that “patient” will go, in acknowledgement of a strong jobs market. This will at least open the possibility, if not probability, of a small interest–rate boost in June.

Yet now Fed watchers believe some word or phrase that essentially means the same as “patient” will be employed to convey the message that the Fed will only ultimately lift rates if it’s sure the economic data merit a hike. Chair Yellen will also likely throw a few syllables out to acknowledge the disinflationary and growth challenges of a ripping strong dollar.

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Put this way, it all sounds rather silly. Because it largely is silly. Yet these moments are valuable because they are discrete events whose outcome and immediate market impact reveal the bets of the big money, and offer a glimpse at what the consensus truly wants and fears. This week, it seems the market is rooting for a dovish message, as it has rallied on softer economic releases, but who knows?

Fed days are like the “flop” in poker, when cards are dealt face up after the first round of betting. It can show in an instant who was bluffing.

Number 2:

As populist, capitalist rallying cries go, “Let us pay a little less to get a lot less” is hardly inspirational or revolutionary.

But arguably, this is what so many TV fans have been pleading for in arguing for more a la carte menus of cable and streaming channels rather than the all-inclusive pay-TV bundle.

With Apple Inc. (AAPL) ready to offer a slimmer package of 25 channels or so for maybe $40 via Apple TV and other devices, we might finally get a real test of the demand for such a stepped-down array of networks.

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Yet once you add that $40 to the cost of a broadband connection, maybe $10 a month for Netflix and perhaps another sports or movie network offered “over the top” and it becomes easy to approach the all-in expense of a standard cable bundle.

People want to “pay only for what I watch,” but they probably want the option of watching a lot more than they ever can. I’d like to pay for electricity for my refrigerator only when I open it, but it can’t work that way.

Watch how Comcast (CMCSA) and DirecTV (DTV) and the rest of the pay-TV sector trades today, for an early clue on how the market handicaps what is sure to be a drawn-out, entertaining battle.

Number 3:

Almost exactly 29 years ago, Oracle Corp. (ORCL) came public at a split-adjusted price of about four cents a share. Today, the stock is above $43, making it one of the most stupendous performers of the modern tech era.

Of course, the shares first got above $40 15 years ago and are just circling back from the deflated Web 1.0 bubble.

Today, Oracle is a slow-growth agglomeration of business software businesses, slow to grow in cloud services. Unlike fellow Old Tech giant such as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Intel Corp. (INTC), Oracle has never embraced a generous dividend policy, so the stock yields just over 1%.

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Yet the shares have been peppy heading into this afternoon’s earnings report, up close to 5% the past two trading days even as revenue is projected to be up a mere 2%, per-share operating earnings flat and plenty of concern about the headwind of the strong dollar.

Last quarter, low expectations into a decent quarter led to a pleasant surprise and decent upside pop in the stock. Are traders making the opposite error this time?

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