Tracking the S&P over the last quarter has been almost as much fun as watching paint dry as we bought the quarter to a close with a 1% gain. One of the nice things about technology companies though is the volatility in results. Since profits are based on converting ideas to cash flow, surprises can come from any place, at any time -- including established companies. These two firms are bucking the trend and pushing to new highs despite a flat market: Frontier Communications Corp. (NASDAQ: FTR ) and Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW ) .
Breakout at Deutsche Bank conference
Frontier Communications has been on fire since presenting at the Deutsche Bank Media conference on March 10. The company has been under pressure for years as it competes with large cable companies that seem to have endless resources. The customer lock-in that has allowed these companies to send triple-digit bills on a monthly basis may have frustrated some people, though, and opened the door for competition at the low end. Frontier offers a low-cost broadband to get a foothold with a customer at a data rate of 6 Mbps. This is a decent rate for people who aren't streaming Netflix movies in HD and is actually causing an uplift in ARPU. During the presentation, the firm claimed that some customers (no percentages were given) are upgrading to the 12 Mb and 20 Mb plans and 77% are still on the base plan.
The larger issue may be the update on Frontier's acquisition of AT&T's (NYSE: T ) residential and business services in Connecticut. The deal is now expected to close in either the third or fourth quarter and will be accretive to cash flow in the first year according to the company. While not mentioned on the press release, this is an important factor for a secondary reason. Frontier has a very high 7.1% dividend yield, but it isn't supported by a payout ratio low enough to sustain it. While we haven't modeled the cash flows of the combined businesses, it was mentioned on the fourth-quarter conference call and was likely discussed at length in one-on-one meetings at the conference.
Gorilla Glass isn't just for iPhones
Despite all of the negative press about Gorilla Glass, Corning is close to testing highs not seen since 2011. Sapphire may be the choice for Apple, but the GTAT's lock with Apple means that it will not be supplying other Android vendors. The bigger issue seems to be the TV market, which according to Susquehanna Financials' channel checks appears to be robust.
There has been speculation that the strength in Corning's share price has been due to accelerated buybacks but this seems unlikely. On October 31, Corning announced a $1 billion accelerated buyback as a part of its larger $2 billion buyback. That's a huge amount of capital to allocate to a buyback, especially if it diverted half of it to a short-term purchase. However, even if the company used all $2 billion, if you use an average price of $18 and consider that the average volume per day since the announcement is 11.7 million shares, the most this would amount to nine days' worth of trading volume. If that's the case, Corning isn't the only entity purchasing its shares.
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