What happened

What a long, strange trip it's been for Intelsat (NYSE:I) -- and that's only Friday!

Within the first hour of trading this morning, Intelsat stock dropped 15.5% before slowly finding its footing. Later in the day, the stock shot up 14.6% in a matter of minutes. Then it fell flat.

When all was said and done, Intelsat closed Friday at $3.75 per share ($0.01 higher than on Thursday) for a one-day gain of 0.3%.

Chalkboard drawing of arrow going up getting erased and coming back down

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Ho-hum, right? Despite all the turbulence, Intelsat basically went nowhere on Friday. And yet, there's a big story behind this round trip back to where Intelsat started.  

This morning, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a fact sheet detailing the terms of its planned public auction of C-band spectrum currently licensed to Intelsat and others. In weeks past, Intelsat had been angling to win a large chunk of the perhaps $77 billion in proceeds that might be reaped from the spectrum sale, while Congress has been pushing to compensate the satellite companies with something more along the lines of $1 billion.

Now the details are out and it looks like all the members of Intelsat's C-Band Alliance, and other satellite companies not in the trade group, will be splitting a bit less than $15 billion combined.  

Now what

Is this a lot of money or a little? It depends on whom you ask. Plowing through the 185 pages of the FCC's fact sheet, J.P. Morgan came away with the impression that if Intelsat accepts what the FCC is offering, it won't make nearly enough to pay off its $14 billion debt load, and will be left with little to no value in its stock. Other analysts, Raymond James in particular, think that $15 billion, split three or more ways, should still give Intelsat enough to lighten its debt load, and so the investment bank continues to recommend the stock.  

Investors (few of which, I imagine, have made their way through the FCC's 185 pages yet) are being blown by the winds of Wall Street sentiment. When you don't know what to think, that can make for a very volatile stock ... even when that stock ends up going precisely nowhere.