Verizon Communications (VZ 1.74%) isn't what you think of when talking about red-hot growth stocks. After all, lots of investors like it for the income it generates, not because they expect it to see double-digit growth.
Nor do they expect to make a killing from a big jump in its stock.
Year to date, Verizon stock is up a mere 6.9%, underperforming the S&P 500, which is 24.5% higher. The company set its 52-week high way back in 1999 and has never surpassed it.
It's also bloodied and bruised from its acquisitions of AOL in May 2015 and Yahoo! in July 2016. The Yahoo! $4.83 billion purchase, in particular, misfired and resulted in Verizon taking a $4.6 billion writedown in late 2018 on Oath, the media company it formed by combining AOL and Yahoo!. And let's not forget Verizon is in cost-cutting mode at the same time it's pouring billions of dollars into its 5G network build-out.
And then there's growth -- or lack of it, in the case of Verizon.
For Verizon's third quarter, which it reported in late October, revenue from its consumer business came in at $22.7 billion, up just 1.4% year over year. On the business front, revenue of $7.9 billion was flat year over year. Total consolidated operating revenues in the three-month period was $32.9 billion, 0.9% higher from last year's third quarter. Cash flow during the quarter increased $504 million compared to the year-ago third quarter, driven by cost cuts.
Is 5G the answer investors have been searching for?
There are some things to like about Verizon in its current form. Take its dividend, for starters. Verizon increased its quarterly dividend by a quarter-cent to $0.615 a share in September. It currently yields a 4.1% return. Its consumer wireless business is also seeing growth, albeit anemic, with Verizon adding new subscribers during the third quarter.
But what could propel Verizon's stock in the next year and potentially beyond is the long-promised rollout of 5G services. If the 5G market takes off the way many are predicting, Verizon could return to the days when smartphones didn't saturate the market, people were willing to pay a lot to connect to faster wireless internet, and Verizon revenue was growing by more than 1.4% a quarter. Here's why.
As the fifth generation of wireless networking standards, 5G has been talked about for years but is now becoming a reality. The technology promises to provide internet speeds never seen before, enabling services that are still to be determined. With 5G, "instant" communications get even faster, digital devices can interact more smoothly, and consumers can do much more (like download full-length movies remotely to their phones in seconds). Without 5G, a future that includes a network of self-driving vehicles won't be possible.
Ericsson, the Swedish telecom company that provides networking equipment to wireless carriers, predicts that by the end of 2025, 5G internet will cover 65% of the world's population. Within six years, it thinks 5G will handle 45% of all the mobile data traffic globally. 5G is also expected to bring an increase in average monthly consumption of mobile data, something Verizon is banking on. Ericsson said the average monthly data usage rate will jump to 24GB from 7.2GB today.
Verizon wants to win with 5G
The entire wireless industry sees the potential for 5G and, as a result, has been pouring billions of dollars into the build-out of the networks. Verizon will reportedly spend between $17 billion and $18 billion on its 5G network in the U.S.
Verizon has been in a protracted battle with AT&T (T 1.99%) and T-Mobile to be the first to market with a 5G service that is reliable and delivers on the promises consumers have been hearing about for seemingly forever. After all, being first and already having a brand name could give Verizon an edge. It was able to achieve that, and as of November, its 5G Ultra Wideband service is available in select parts of several cities, including Boston, Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and New York City.
The company also inked deals to bring 5G to 13 NFL stadiums this season, with plans to expand to more in the works. The NFL stadium deals are an important part of Verizon's 5G rollout strategy, given many of these stadiums are located in dense urban areas and draw a lot of interest from the surrounding communities. That means potential customers for its 5G network. Verizon is aiming to have 5G in 30 markets by the end of this year, and, according to CEO Hans Vestberg during the third-quarter earnings call, the company is still on track to meet this goal.
It's not all smooth 5G sailing for Verizon
There are some concerns about Verizon's ability to make a profit off of 5G, particularly on the consumer side. Price wars between the carriers are ongoing. AT&T's recent move to institute new price reductions has spooked analysts and investors. They are worried that even with the launch of 5G services, Verizon and its peers won't be able to raise prices, at least on the consumer side. Verizon may fare better on the corporate front if companies spend a lot on 5G.
While Verizon's stock tends to underperform, the 5G build-out is going to take off in 2020 as more phones and services come to the market. And if Apple is able to deliver a 5G-enabled iPhone next year, this super-speedy internet connectivity could be the shot in the arm that Verizon's investors have been eagerly waiting for.