What happened

Shares of Intelsat (INTE.Q) rose 13.2% in February 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The communications satellite operator rode quite a roller coaster last month, jumping and falling by turns.

So what

Intelsat's February gains started when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published details on the upcoming auction of C-band radio spectrum licenses. The company could pocket as much as $4.85 billion under this plan in return for selling some of its C-band licenses. That 4% jump was followed by a sharper drop as analyst firm Raymond James argued that Intelsat's stock was "fairly valued" and that the spectrum auction windfall looks smaller than expected.

On Feb. 18, noted investment firm Appaloosa Management took a 7% stake in Intelsat and sent a letter to the company discussing the firm's "dissatisfaction" with the C-band auction. Shares surged 18% higher in a single day as investors smelled a richer payout.

A solid fourth-quarter report continued the positive trend, and management took that opportunity to confirm that the auction terms are under negotiation. Intelsat is looking for better terms and a larger payout. Investors embraced that idea, driving share prices 8% higher that day.

The last big move of the month came on Feb. 28. Intelsat's stock fell 12% as the FCC voted to limit the C-band auction's payout to satellite companies. In other words, the company appears to be stuck with that $4.85 billion maximum after all.

A satellite floats high above the earth.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

It's unclear where Intelsat will go from here. The company sure could use a larger auction haul in order to pay down its massive debt load of more than $14 billion. Legal action against the FCC, official complaints, and various lobbying efforts might be on the table, but Intelsat can't be sure any of these alternatives will pay off.

Intelsat's stock has now fallen 87% lower in 52 weeks as the C-band drama unfolded. You can find this stock in Wall Street's bargain bin, trading at a mere 15 times free cash flow, or 0.2 times trailing sales. The big day-to-day swings in Intelsat's share prices are typical for volatile small-cap companies, and the huge debt load hanging over the company's head isn't exactly a calming factor either. You should expect this stock to stay unpredictable at least until the C-band auction has been completed.