Regional telecom Alaska Communications Systems
Third-quarter sales of $90.3 million were in line with analyst estimates while the $0.02 net loss per share was a serious disappointment. Forward guidance was unchanged from earlier estimates. Revenues per subscriber are on the rise, the 4G LTE network build continues as planned, and subscriber counts are pretty stable. So far, so ... well, acceptable.
But on the conference call, management dropped this bomb on investors: "Our board has been reviewing our dividend policy."
That's often code for, "We may need to slash or suspend our payouts." Since many investors are drawn to Alaska by its 12% dividend yield (as of last night; 15.5% at today's prices), that's like telling hockey fans that indoor ice rinks might get outlawed. It hurts even more when you consider Alaska's ultra-dependable payout history: The company has paid the same $0.215 quarterly divvy per share since the first quarter of 2006.
CEO Anand Vadapalli then bent over backward to remind analysts to "take one step at a time, and not get ahead of ourselves." Dividend changes may or may not be under way, but investors should know when the board is looking at a policy change.
When asked whether dividends take priority over the LTE build, Vadapalli shot it right back to the board again. Dividend policy is up to the board of directors and management must adjust business strategies to the hand they're dealt. If that means accelerating or slowing down network buildouts, or even taking on new debt just to keep both dividends and growth plans healthy, then that's another issue entirely.
Alaska Communications is certainly not the only double-digit yield payer in the telecom sector. Other American regionals such as Frontier Communications
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