Looking Back at Level 3's Tumultuous Year

Level 3 Communications (NYSE: LVLT  ) makes the turn into 2012 as a member of the prestigious NYSE and with international growth plans in mind. The long-distance data carrier is doing a lot of things right, and yet share prices have fallen substantially from mid-year highs. Did the business fall apart over the summer?

What's wrong, dear?
Well, let's see. Level 3 opened some $650 million of new debt in late July in order to restructure its existing debt and facilitate the acquisition of smaller peer Global Crossing. At about the same time, data-wrangling rival Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) started showing cracks in its formerly ironclad growth story. Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW  ) quickly followed suit. All of a sudden, the oh-so-healthy data transport industry was falling apart.

Level 3 has yet to report quarterly results since the Global Crossing merger; the most recent quarter ended a few days before the deal closed. The company jumped into Latin America just weeks before major customer Netflix expanded video-streaming services into that region. Digital video is a big driver of worldwide connectivity needs, and Level 3 is smart to stay connected to that trend.

Level 3's plight wasn't helped by the unpopular decision to do a 15-for-1 reverse stock split in conjunction with the Global Crossing deal. Thanks to that move, Level 3 cleared the share-price hurdle to trading on the NYSE. That's curious, especially in light of telecom Frontier Communications moving in the opposite direction to save on listing fees. Exactly why Level 3 wanted to transfer its shares to the NYSE isn't entirely clear -- management said something about a "natural and mutually beneficial step" for both Level 3 and the exchange, because they've done business together for so long.

And that, of course, does go hand-in-hand with the international reach afforded by the Global Crossing deal to begin with. The company now proudly trumpets "a unique global services platform" with fiber optics laid down over 45 countries on three continents. Global coverage has pretty much become Level 3's platform, and you better believe in it if you're going to invest here.

Some things change, some stay the same
So Level 3 is in some ways a very different company in December from the one it was in January -- larger, broader, and with obvious plans on overseas expansion. Through other lenses, it's much the same: unprofitable and cash-burning, unless Global Crossing's similar financial performance produces enough synergies to magically change that longstanding trend. But management didn't see fit to offer any guidance on how the combined company is doing, so it's anybody's guess as to exactly how well the integration is going.

This company has a lot to prove in 2012. If you're nervous about making a bet on Level 3's opaque story, you should grab a copy of this free report. In it, you'll find five stocks the Fool owns and you should too, including one top-notch technology stock. Just click here to get yours today -- it's totally free.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of NYSE Euronext and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2011, at 8:24 PM, lvltllnw wrote:

    Could it be that Level3 moved to the NYSE because the largest shareholder (STT Crossing) is a sovereign wealth fund located in Singapore? Possibly NASDAQ plays by different rules when it comes to foreign ownership.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2011, at 8:49 PM, ddm08 wrote:

    "So Level 3 is in some ways a very different company in December from the one it was in January -- larger, broader, and with obvious plans on overseas expansion. Through other lenses, it's much the same: unprofitable and cash-burning, unless Global Crossing's similar financial performance produces enough synergies to magically change that longstanding trend. But management didn't see fit to offer any guidance on how the combined company is doing, so it's anybody's guess as to exactly how well the integration is going."

    And yet, your management, FOOL CAPITAL MANAGEMENT is buying up LVLT like a crazy drunk...Geez, I wonder why?!

    MOTLEY FOOL ASSET MANAGEMENT LLC 09/30/2011 55,253 8,333 17.76 946

    http://www.nasdaq.com/symbol/lvlt/institutional-holdings?sor...

    So keep up with the good lies, Anders. May be you will get a nice Christmas bonus this year...

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 1:40 AM, carlkiefer wrote:

    An individual author does not own shares in certain firms whom he is writing trash about, while his employer is increasing their stake in the most recent quarter by 18 percent both before and after a reverse split, but the author is not required to mention that?

    If the author's actions are more important than his own firms for the public eye to see, this makes sense.

    If not, fair disclosure rules are in need of repair.

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 10:56 AM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    Guys, my articles have nothing to do with Fool Asset Management -- I don't know what they own or what they're trading. The only time I find out is when helpful readers point out what looks like discrepancies, as you just did here. Plus, even if I did keep track of that, nobody tells me what to write or what to think here -- we're actually encouraged to think on our own. So I do. Read our disclosure policy for more detail on what makes us Motley:

    http://www.fool.com/Legal/fool-disclosure-policy.aspx

    Anders

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 11:18 AM, carlkiefer wrote:

    What's wrong, dear?

    Most, if not all of the premises being used to create fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding the Level 3 Enterprise, a combined $6.25B revenue factory committing to eight percent top line growth minimally as of this month in two executive presentations, in addition to doubling that percentage growth in EBITDA to 16 percent or better, while at the same time reducing their blended debt expenditures in the form of lower interest rates by 350-400 basis points.

    But, this "opaque" story requires me to provide you with data to access your "free report" in uncovering the five best stock picks since God's creation?

    That's what's wrong, dear!

    By the way, supposedly there is an Oppenheimer Report out there, one that FOOLS must PAY FOR, and one which is predicting a broadband GLUT for another ten years at least. You would be smarter to use data points from there in order to bash this company, subtly or otherwise.

    Mr. Market has been trading that report while bludgeoning the Level 3 stock price, up until now, I am sure.

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 11:29 AM, carlkiefer wrote:

    One other thing I can assure you, Anders, dear.

    The PRICE is NOT DEAR, while the FUD is SEVERE, so the buying opportunity has been presented HERE.

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 12:02 PM, ddm08 wrote:

    Anders,

    May be YOU should be reading your company's own disclosure before advising us to do so, Mr. Hypocrite!

    What part of these 2 disclosures by your company that miss you?

    "•All Fool employees and contractors -- that's anyone with a TMF prefix on their screen names -- are required to publicly disclose their current individual positions on their personal profile pages on the Fool.com website. (We do not disclose the individual stocks that might be in a Fool's mutual funds.)

    •An affiliate of The Motley Fool provides investment products that may hold securities mentioned in our publications. Editorial personnel have no nonpublic knowledge of the affiliate's holdings, and the affiliate's personnel have no knowledge of any editorial content before it is published."

    Just because AN AFFILIATE of THE MOTLEY FOOL holds shares in LVLT, you are not going to acknowledge it? This is like Goldman Sachs doing banking with LVLT, but not acknowledging that it's about to bash LVLT.

    May be you should go an consult with the MOTLEY FOOL legal counsel before putting out another of your bashing article of LVLT.

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 1:55 PM, carlkiefer wrote:

    Goldman Sachs? They are the ones who own a controlling stake in Limelight(LLNW) and after their horrific quarterly report identifying negative growth, it was somehow spun by "The Street" including Goldman that their business is doing great with the stock getting a nice RISE in the aftermath!

    You couldn't make this stuff up unless you "CONTROLLED" stock prices along with the MEDIA OUTLETS who will sway investment sentiment by relying on the herd of miscreants.

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2011, at 2:35 PM, carlkiefer wrote:

    Goldman Sachs? Those are also the men who threaten our politicians that if they don't raid our Treasury for their exclusive purposes, that they will CRASH our markets and leave us with "The Mark of the Beast" at 666 to reflect our S&P averages.

    Lest one forget, that's exactly what happened in 08/09.

    As a nation, we can do better versus bowing down to those dubious men who care to be known as Government Sachs wielding their power, influence and control.

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