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Here's Where Things Went Wrong for Frontier Communications Corporation in 2017

By Daniel B. Kline - Dec 27, 2017 at 8:09AM

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The company had a down year, and it's very clear why.

Frontier Communications (FTR) had a lousy year that was rooted in a decision it made in 2016.

In April of last year, the company purchased Verizon's (VZ -1.00%) wireline business in California, Texas, and Florida for $10.54 billion. That gave it approximately 3.3 million voice connections, 2.1 million broadband connections, and 1.2 million FiOS video subscribers. It was a move that CEO Daniel McCarthy celebrated at the time.

"This is a transformative acquisition for Frontier that delivers first-rate assets and important new opportunities given our dramatically expanded scale," he said when the deal closed. "It significantly expands our presence in three high-growth, high-density states, and improves our revenue mix by increasing the percentage of our revenues coming from segments with the most promising growth potential."

What McCarthy didn't see is that the industry was changing. Cord cutting was going to shrink the cable business, and consumers were leaving telephone-company-based wireline broadband (what Frontier bought from Verizon) for cable-based service.

A hand points a remote at a television.

Frontier has been losing cable customers as well. Image source: Getty Images.

How bad was it?

On the positive side, Frontier did gain some synergies from the deal. It was able to create over $1 billion in annual savings with a path toward creating around $400 million more. That's the only good news the company has experienced since the deal closed.

Frontier has lost subscribers and money in every quarter since the Verizon deal closed. Both did lessen in the most-recent quarter, but the trends are still bleak.

Quarter Net Loss Customers Lost
Q3 2106 $134 million 67,000
Q4 2016 $133 million 158,000
Q1 2017 $129 million 173,000
Q2 2017 $715 million* 162,000
Q3 2017 $92 million 109,000

*There was one-time impairment charge in Q2 2017.

What else has gone wrong?

To conserve cash, Frontier cut its dividend as of the first quarter of its fiscal 2017. It slashed the quarterly payout from $0.105 per share, where it had been for over two years, to $0.04 per share.

The company also, at roughly the same time, conducted a 15-1 reverse split of its stock. That move was made to keep shares above the $1 threshold required to maintain its listing.

What happens next?

McCarthy continues to maintain an optimistic outlook. 

"Our third-quarter results highlight the ongoing stabilization across our business as we focus on executing our strategy," said McCarthy in the Q3 earnings release. "During the quarter, we were pleased with the continued improvement in subscriber trends and churn in our California, Texas, and Florida (CTF) markets, ongoing stabilization in our commercial business, and continued operating efficiencies."

That's a rosy way to look at things, but even if the chain can stabilize its losses, there's very little reason to believe it can post gains. A best-case scenario for Frontier is that it finds a way to tread water by breaking even while maintaining its customer count.

There's very little upside for shareholders aside from the possibility of a sale. Even that is unlikely -- at least at much of a premium -- because the technological reasons that have hurt Frontier would be a problem for any possible purchaser.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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