DirecTV Inc. may have gained more than its share of
headlines recently with its purchase of PrimeStar Inc.'s assets, but direct-broadcast
satellite competitor EchoStar Communications Corp. is still winning hearts on Wall Street.
In fact, EchoStar's stock price seems to be benefiting
more from the recently announced deal than that of Hughes Electronics Corp.,
EchoStar's share prices reached record highs early
last week, passing $57, before dipping again slightly by midweek and closing at $55.06
last Wednesday. That's more than triple its 52-week low of $16.25.
And at least one analyst predicted that the company's
stock price could double again by the end of the year, given the proper regulatory and
competitive environments. Most projections were more modest, but still upbeat.
Last Monday, investment firm ING Baring Furman Selz LLC
issued a strong buy rating on EchoStar, raising its 12- to 18-month stock target to $75
Some analysts said that because Hughes' stock is not a
"pure play" in DBS, it's harder to gauge how much impact the recently
announced PrimeStar deal has had on its share prices.
Still, Hughes closed last Wednesday at $49 per share, up
from its Jan. 22 close of $46.63 and more than 50 percent above its Dec. 18 close of $34.
Goldman Sachs & Co. analyst Lou Kerner said he's
raised his projection for EchoStar's stock to $65 per share by the end of 1999, based
on the recent Hughes/PrimeStar transaction.
Kerner said he believes that EchoStar will be able to poach
some PrimeStar subscribers before DirecTV completes the deal. In addition, EchoStar stands
to benefit as the DBS landscape changes from a three-player market to a two-player market.
Bear Stearns & Co. analyst Vijay Jayant also projected
that EchoStar's shares would reach $65 by year's end, adding that EchoStar is
his best-performing stock today.
Jayant also noted that the higher the stock sells above $39
per share, the fewer EchoStar shares News Corp. stands to gain when its deal to sell its
American Sky Broadcasting Inc. DBS assets to EchoStar closes.
Lehman Bros. Inc. analyst Bob Berzins also predicted that
EchoStar's stock would grow in value.
"If local-into-local legislation gets approved,
EchoStar's stock could double in the next year," Berzins said. If not, he
predicted, it could take three years for the stock to double in value.
"Watch Congress and subscriber growth over the next
few months," Berzins advised, "and then watch the implementation of
EchoStar's new services," such as interactive television, later in the year.
Analysts also looked favorably on DirecTV and Hughes last
week. They predicted that both DirecTV and EchoStar would see more substantial subscriber
growth in the next few years than previously projected. Because of industry consolidation,
both companies have additional high-power DBS bandwidth that they can use to offer more