LONDON -- If you look at recent Fool articles about Vodafone (LSE: VOD ) (NASDAQ: VOD ) , it's all dividends, dividends, dividends. That's hardly surprising, given that the mobile communications giant yields 5.2%, more than 10 times Bank of England base rate. Only a handful of FTSE 100 companies yield more, and they're mostly troubled insurers such as Resolution, RSA Insurance, and Aviva. So yes, Vodafone is a happy, honking dividend machine, and hooray for that. But is that all?
Calling Vodafone a growth stock can invite derision. At 1.98 pounds, it trades at roughly half its technology boom peak, when it touched 4 pounds. If your performance benchmark is March 2000, then it has all the growth potential of a cut flower. But more recent benchmarks show a much rosier picture. Over the last three months, Vodafone is up 18%, against 6.5% for the FTSE 100. Over three years, it is up 40%, against 33% for the index. OK, we're not talking 10-bagger status here, but recent growth has been more respectable, especially when you consider it comes on top of that generous yield. Is there more to come?
Dog and fone
Vodafone is too big to be a right little grower. It could take decades to rescale that lost peak of 4 pounds. First, it's too big. Other challenges include tough European regulation, falling revenues in the troubled southern eurozone, and aggressive competition from multichannel rivals. Its recent final results were mixed, and included a 4.2% drop in group revenue to 44.4 billion pounds and a 1.9% decline in full-year organic service revenue (including a sharp 4.2% drop in Q4). Vodafone faces a steep and perilous climb.
Yet the money keeps rolling in. Service revenue from Verizon Wireless rose 8.1%, with Vodafone's share of the profits up 30.5% to 6.4 billion pounds. Adjusted earnings per share rose 5% to 15.65 pence. Free cash flow was at the higher end of guidance at 5.6 billion pounds. Last year's total dividend per share rose up 7% to 10.19 pence. Over three years, it has risen 22%. That juicy 5.2% yield is covered a reasonable 1.5 times.
Red, not dead
Vodafone has got something new to excite its customers, in the shape of high-speed data and next-generation fixed line access. Group chief executive Vittorio Colao calls Vodafone Red, which has 4.1 million members across 14 markets, "very successful, providing a solid underpinning for future revenue." It is also a play on emerging markets, where it plans to become "a clear leader," with revenues in India rising 10.7% and Turkey a whopping 17.3%. Plenty of growth there.
I last topped up my stake in Vodafone in January, taking advantage of a brief share price slump. It cost 1.69 pounds at the time, so I'm already 18% to the good, and I've got years of dividends ahead of me. At 12.6 times earnings, it still isn't overvalued. Forecast EPS growth is a solid 4% to March 31, 2014, and 6% to 2015. By then, it should yield 5.4%. I still see Vodafone as primarily an income machine, but that doesn't mean investors can't bank a steady bit of growth as well.
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