In some cases, something you don't really want becomes a value if the price gets low enough. That explains some fast-food value menus, and it contributes to the appeal of dollar stores.
But there are other items -- think Miami Marlins tickets or a bottle of Mountain Dew -- that you don't want no matter the price. Something you don't want doesn't become a deal because it's cheap. It becomes a burden you're stuck with, like an ugly painting you have to hang up every time the aunt who gave it to you visits.
In my view, Frontier Communications (FTR) is all of those terrible things. Yes, it's cheap, but that should not tempt investors. Buying a stock at a low price makes sense if there's a reasonable expectation it will rise. Frontier seems like a deal compared with high-flying T-Mobile (TMUS 0.19%), but as I see it, that's like saying a broken-down scooter is a good deal compared with a new Porsche.
Is the difference really that big?
T-Mobile operates in a very competitive market, and it faces regulatory scrutiny in its attempt to buy Sprint (S). That deal could very well be scuttled by federal regulators. And while that seems like a red flag, it would really just be a bump in the company's road to success.
Adding Sprint would make things easier for T-Mobile. It would give the company more customers and more resources to build out its 5G network faster. If the deal gets denied, however, T-Mobile will be just fine. The company has added over 1 million subscribers in every quarter for the past four years, and has led the industry in phone activations for 18 straight quarters.
Frontier has told the opposite story. It has lost subscribers in every quarter since it spent $10.54 billion buying Verizon's wireline business in California, Texas, and Florida in April 2016. That deal doubled the size of the company, but it came at a time when the cable and internet businesses were changing.
Cord-cutting has accelerated, and while broadband has grown, consumers want cable-delivered service, not the phone-line-delivered product Frontier offers. Basically, the company made a huge bet at exactly the wrong time and has been sinking ever since.
T-Mobile is a better buy
Frontier is cheap in the way that bakeries sell day-old bagels at a lower price: The bagels will never be better, and that's very likely true of this stock. At best, Frontier can arrest its customer slide and limp along, or become an acquisition target.
Even without Sprint, T-Mobile has been posting impressive results and should continue to do so no matter how federal regulators rule. It's by no means a cheap stock. But in this case, you get what you pay for -- and that's upside in the form of long-term growth.