This has not been a good week for the dividend kings of the telecom industry.
Alaska Communications Systems (Nasdaq: ALSK ) missed second-quarter-earnings estimates by a frozen country mile when it reported a $0.02 loss per share. The stock fell as much as 4% on the news, though shares then climbed back up again. The company's commitment to Apple's iPhone may still turn out to be the right decision -- but the jury is out on that one.
And then Windstream (NYSE: WIN ) comes along with another big plunge. The regional voice, video, and broadband carrier's second quarter failed to impress investors last night, sending share prices as far as 9.3% southward.
The most commonly reported results weren't all that terrible: Windstream met analyst estimates with $1.5 billion in revenue and missed adjusted earnings targets by a hair with $0.12 per share.
But free cash flows shrank 40% year over year due to heavy investment in optical fiber connections to wireless towers. I do applaud Windstream's management for investing in its future -- these expenses should start paying off in 2013 and beyond. But the company had to dip into cash reserves to fund its generous dividends this quarter. Management claims to be comfortable with its cash generation and dividend policies going forward, but this was a scary quarter nonetheless.
Windstream also announced its 25th straight quarter of dividend payments at $0.25 per share. That's not "25 quarters of uninterrupted dividends, and the last one happened to be $0.25." It's literally more than six years stuck at exactly the same payout. If stability is your thing, that's cool. Some stocks aren't this lucky. Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR ) , for example, has slashed its payouts by 60% over the last three years. Telefonica (NYSE: TEF ) put its dividend entirely on ice last month. Windstream is at least able to keep a steady income stream flowing.
However, true dividend aristocrats tend to increase their payouts year by year, and that's clearly not something Windstream can afford to do. Windstream's 10% yield does not make it an automatic income champion.
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