3 Regional Telcos That Are Riskier Than You Think

Between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, three of the riskiest regional telcos will step up to report fresh quarterly results.

Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: FTR  ) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL  ) report after tomorrow's market close. Windstream (NASDAQ: WIN  ) follows the next morning.

All three companies are expected to post declining quarterly revenue, and Frontier and Windstream are eyeing steep drops in profitability. Two of the companies have slashed their dividends over the past year, yet they are still offering juicy payouts that nab unsuspecting income investors.

Things can still play out well for the regional telcos, but it's important to understand where they are now, and where they are heading.

Revenue is slipping at all three companies -- and it's expected to drop between 2% and 8% for the regional telcos -- because folks are cutting their landlines.

This isn't a surprise. Folks are nixing their local phone service to save up for their costly wireless plans. Until we see some stability there, investors are merely playing a game of limbo here.

Let's size up the upcoming reports and yields as of Monday's close.

 Company

Latest Quarter

EPS (estimated)

Year-Ago

Quarter EPS

Yield

Windstream

$0.09

$0.12

11.6%

Frontier Communications

$0.05

$0.08

8.8%

CenturyLink

$0.67

$0.65

6%

 Source: Yahoo! Finance.

As you can probably imagine, Windstream is the lone holdout when it comes to hacking away at its quarterly distributions.

Frontier cut its quarterly dividend from $0.25 a share to $0.1875 a share three years ago, and again to $0.10 a share last year. CenturyLink went from distributing $0.725 a share every three months to $0.54 a share earlier this year. Class action lawsuits are piling up against CenturyLink, accusing it of misleading investors leading up to this year's payout cut.

Windstream has stuck to its $0.25 a share quarterly rate since 2006, even though it hasn't earned enough to cover its rate for a couple of years now. Roughly two-thirds of last year's disbursements were actually a return of capital.

It isn't a surprise that the least risky telco here is the one with the lowest yield. CenturyLink is the only one earning more than the size of its dividend this quarter.

Frontier, CenturyLink, and Windstream are trying to offset the landline customer defections by offering broadband connectivity and business services. It's a good plan, even in the rural markets where they tend to concentrate so they don't have to compete with the deep pockets of the national wireless rock stars.

However, all three companies are generating less revenue now than they were a year ago. Until that changes, the companies will continue to be among the riskiest plays in telecommunications. The declines don't have to last forever. An improving economy may very well change things dramatically for all three companies. Investors just need to know that the risks are great as they dial in to these fat-yielding investments.

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  • Report this Comment On August 07, 2013, at 2:34 PM, VeryWiseInvestor wrote:

    Please, please, please short WIN and FTR. I love seeing people that don't know straight up from sickem lose their money.

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Related Tickers

10/23/2014 4:02 PM
CTL $39.94 Down -0.15 -0.37%
CenturyLink, Inc. CAPS Rating: ***
FTR $6.28 Up +0.03 +0.40%
Frontier Communica… CAPS Rating: ***
WIN $10.20 Down -0.05 -0.49%
Windstream Corp CAPS Rating: **

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