CBS’ Moonves Says Ad Market Is Rebounding

NEW YORK CBS Corp. shares were overly punished in the recession, but they will continue to rise as the economy strengthens, president and CEO Leslie Moonves said here Tuesday.

Speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, Moonves pointed out that the stock has already doubled from a low point hit earlier in the year. “As the economy improves, our stock price will, too,” Moonves promised.

He also reiterated recent comments about a stabilizing economy and advertising market. “We believe we have seen the bottom of the downturn,” and things will get better as the year unfolds, Moonves said.

“We are seeing early signs of improvement in the advertising marketplace — both in local and national,” the CEO told shareholders, but cautioned: “It’s too soon to call it a full-blown recovery.”

Beyond improved ad trends, CBS’s financials will during the second half of 2009 also benefit from strong syndication titles and a cost structure that the firm has lowered amid the recession, Moonves said.

Controlling shareholder and Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone called 2008 a “challenging year” for CBS due to the recession, but also predicted that the firm will outperform its peers during the economic recovery. “And it is recovering — bit by bit,” he said.

Also in attendance was Redstone’s daughter Shari, who sits on the CBS board.

Among investor questions Tuesday, shareholder activist Evelyn Y. Davis asked why CBS hasn’t launched a financial news channel. “We have explored [it],” Moonves replied. “Right now the market is way too crowded.” He also pointed to the company’s online offerings in the financial space.