Post-Enron, analysts have been trying to flush out anything that could cause trouble at companies they follow. So Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine Associates, long a bull on Playboy Enterprises (PLA ), has downgraded the stock from a buy to a hold. The reason: Playboy's 20%-owned Playboy TV International "is in danger of unraveling," he says. Playboy TV, formed in 1999 through a joint venture with Cisneros Group, has exclusive rights to operate TV networks using the Playboy brand outside the U.S. and Canada. In return, Playboy TV will pay Playboy $100 million over six years, of which $42.5 million had been paid by 2001. Playboy TV posted 2001 revenues of $33.7 million and a $19.9 million loss. In 2001, Cisneros formed Claxson Interactive Group, in Buenos Aires, by merging various media assets. Claxson, which provides Spanish and Portuguese programming, succeeded Cisneros as 80% owner of Playboy TV. Claxson posted a $84.4 million loss in 2001 and in its annual report said that, unless it gets help, auditors will probably express a troubling "going concern opinion" about its operations. That means Playboy may not get the next payment of $7.5 million from Playboy TV. McAlpine figures Playboy's earnings could be reduced by 15 cents to 20 cents a share, pushing it to post a loss for 2002, instead of a projected profit of 10 cents. Last year, Playboy lost $1.37 a share. Its stock has climbed from 11.56 on Sept. 19 to 17 on Mar. 27. McAlpine says Playboy may be asked to cut its fee, or Cisneros could help by injecting cash into Claxson. "Playboy and Cisneros are in talks to come up with a solution," says Mark Boyar, a large Playboy holder. He says he isn't worried since the problem "is fixable." But to McAlpine, "it's bothersome because so many things could go wrong." He continues to rate Playboy a buy for the long-term based on its assets. Playboy wasn't available for comment.
By Gene Marcial