Getty Images: Value Stock or Value Trap? (GYI)

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Getty Images Inc. (NYSE:GYI) is a stock that is in a conundrum.  It looks like a great value stock with a very low P/E multiple now, but it also has all of the set-ups and industry developments that could make it a serious value trap.  Back in early May 2007 when shares were north of $50.00 we issued in our Special Situation Investing Newsletter a projected target of $36.00 to $38.00 for Getty Images’ stock.  On August 2 we got the entire expected price drop four to six months sooner than expected, and then some.  Shares have continued their fall since and we are reviewing this one again, but there are many other fish to fry and we likely won’t have any major changes of heart in getty for a while.  Attached at the end of this article you can read each of the reports that went out to newsletter subscribers in Adobe Acrobat (R) format.

Last week Getty Images posted an earnings and revenues increase, but the company’s lowered guidance (which we expected) is taking a serious toll.  Revenues rose 6% to $218 million and earnings came in at $0.56 on a diluted basis. First Call estimates were $218.8 million revenues and $0.58 EPS.  Getty also announced a restructuring and related reduction in workforce of about 100 employees.  Unfortunately it also trimmed guidance for Q3 and Fiscal 2007.  Cash balances were $288.6 million at June 30, 2007. During the quarter, the company spent a total of $248 million for acquired businesses, of which $120 million was financed through the company’s senior credit facility and the remaining $128 million paid from existing cash balances.  The cash is very important here, at least it will be more important ahead.

We aren’t entirely negative on Getty Images, because even if it faces rough waters it still has a shot of maintaining high profitability if it focuses on what will be its core markets and can fend off fledgling competitors for a while longer.  Getty will likely have a strong place in a few lines of copyright protected material for live events.  With a 15 forward P/E ratio the company doesn’t expensive at all, but they are going to have to fight harder and harder to compete in the same pricing model.  At some point, it wouldn’t even be uncharacteristic for the co-founders Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein to try to mount an MBO.  They didn’t exactly come from nowhere and could probably get financing even in a liquidity crunched world.

The argument that it is really just a value trap for investors is equally or even more overwhelming.  Vast portions of the company’s business will fall prey to mass collaboration, and anyone with about $20,000 can build a similar wiki-model stock photo and copyright video and audio business.  It isn’t that Getty will start losing money, it is that margins could face a perpetual squeeze here.  Once these online digital photo hubs begin to  take a C2C or C2B (yeah, remember those terms?) (now p2p) approach a step further, then there is more trouble for Getty.  The value of digital, audio, and video images is unfortunately not what it was once even 12 or 24 months ago (see article on Jupiter Media deal falling apart).  Not in a world where your business has the easiest model to mass collaborate or Wiki at any rate.  Getty Images is now and will continue to be the true wiki-model victim.  Even though it has made some good acquisitions it cannot acquire everyone.

If you think the $20,000.00 sounds low, an industry contact of a relatively new competitor estimated only a fraction of that.  Augustine Fou, CEO of PictureSandbox.com, stated, "Anyone with $1,000 can build a web 2.0 service — something as simple as a meta search engine for photos which searches across every available microstock collection. Helping the potential buyer more quickly and easily find and license a photo means that purchase will occur outside walls of traditional stock houses."

So, is Getty Images now great value stock, or is it just a major value trap?  We are looking into this now to see if there is a reason to reverse our negative projection.  This stock didn’t really participate in the last major market rally, and this last drop from guidance has made it fare much worse than the broader markets.  For now, we are looking at many other special situation investing situations and going to just call this one a victory for now. 

Download ssin_getty_may_8_2007.pdf
Download ssin_getty_close_aug_2_2007.pdf

Jon C. Ogg
August 6, 2007

Jon Ogg can be reached at jonogg@247wallst.com; he does not own securities in the companies he covers.