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Merrill Lowers Charter to 'Near Term Neutral'

Merrill Lynch downgraded Charter Communications (CHTR) to near term neutral from strong buy.

Analyst Jessica Reif Cohen says she downgraded the cable operator based on high leverage, a lack of free cash flow for 18 months, and continued accounting worries. Reif Cohen says she thinks Charter's 10-Q will include more detail about its accounting practices, including its subscriber count, and marketing deals with equipment vendors -- which she says could be negative.

Reif Cohen is keeping her long term strong buy due to depressed valuations, and her conviction about the long term value of Charter's upgraded cable pipe. Furthermore, she says despite current telecom woes, unlike telecom, cable is essentially a monopoly, with highly predictable revenue and EBITDA streams.

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