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3 Big Takeaways From Tucows' Third Quarter

By Anders Bylund - Nov 7, 2019 at 9:27AM

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Among the most important points made in this solid earnings report, you'll find that management sees the stock as a great investment right now.

Ting parent Tucows (TCX -2.48%) reported third-quarter results on Wednesday. The Canadian company, which sells various internet services along with Ting-branded broadband and mobile network services, delivered solid financial results while moving closer to its long-term business goals.

Here's a deeper look at a few of the most salient points Tucows made in its third-quarter report.

1. Ting Internet is going places

The fiber-optic broadband service known as Ting Internet is expanding faster than ever. Tucows added two new markets for that physical network expansion during the third quarter. That total swells to four if you include two newer events. Tucows announced a fiber-based service launch in Solana Beach, California, plus the $11 million buyout of hyperfocused fiber networking specialist Cedar Holdings straddling the border between New Mexico and Colorado. Those deals were announced last week, after the closing of the books for the third quarter proper.

All told, Ting Internet will reach 10 distinct markets when all of the new areas have started their operations somewhere near the middle of 2020. Meanwhile, the first six towns saw their top-line contributions rise by 42% year over year.

In all fairness, Ting Internet remains a vanishingly small part of Tucows' overall operations. The service accounted for less than 4% of the company's total third-quarter sales while absorbing most of its cash flows in order to finance the rapid rollout of expensive fiber-optic hardware.

According to comments made on the earnings call by Tucows CEO Elliot Noss, this is a patient play for cash generation in the long term.

"We are [building data centers and upgrading our mobile networks] while growing the investment in fiber operating expenses necessary to build an organization that can take advantage of the massive, long-term opportunity in fiber-to-the-home in the United States," Noss said. "Our shareholders have appreciated our focus on long-term cash flows, not GAAP accounting and quarterly profits. They have appreciated our willingness to be bold when pursuing long-term opportunities. They have appreciated our attention to lean operations. And they have appreciated our approach to capital allocation."

Two cows standing face to face in tall grass.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Q3 by the numbers

Tucows' sales rose 6% year over year, landing at $88.1 million. Bottom-line earnings fell 21% to $4.2 million, which translates into $0.40 per diluted share.

The company doesn't provide non-GAAP earnings figures, but it does like to report its results in terms of adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). The management team relies on this metric to draw up its internal budgets and measure operating performance, so it makes sense to give investors access to the same business measures on a regular basis. On that note, Tucows' adjusted EBITDA increased by 25% to stop at $14.8 million.

Wall Street had been expecting earnings near $0.33 per share on revenue near $88 million. Tucows crushed the earnings target while landing just short of the consensus revenue estimates.

3. Tucows' management thinks its shares are cheap

Going beyond mere talk, they are taking action on that opportunity.

According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Tucows had not bought back any of its own shares since 2016, despite having had an active repurchase authorization in place since February of this year with a $40 million budget.

Well, Tucows started putting that buyback policy to good use in the third quarter. The company retired 102,000 shares at an average share price just south of $49. That's a $5 million investment, reducing the share count by roughly 1%. It wasn't an earthshaking game changer of a move, but you have to start somewhere.

"We were quite pleased to be able to acquire shares at these levels," Noss said.

I agree so deeply with that assessment that I followed suit with my own real-money investment portfolio in early October. My buy-in price was a slightly higher $55 per share -- but I still consider that an eminently reasonable price for a high-quality business. It's good to see that Tucows' leadership agrees, investing a significant chunk of cash into buybacks even though most of its spare cash was earmarked for fiber network builds.

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