Many dividend investors have suffered from the underperformance of CenturyLink (NYSE:LUMN) over recent years. Despite the company's sky-high payout, currently yielding around 9.1%, the company's share price has trended down over the years, badly trailing the overall market, especially other high-flying technology companies.
Management apparently believes at least some of the investor pessimism may be due to the CenturyLink brand name, so the company has decided to change it to Lumen. Effective Sept. 18, the Lumen name will go into effect, and CenturyLink's stock ticker will change from CTL to LUMN. But will the rebrand work?
What's in a name?
CenturyLink, long associated with other old-school regional telecoms, copper-based phone lines, and unexciting growth, has more recently touted its global fiber-optic network that will be crucial to future communications applications.
The new Lumen name sounds more tech-savvy and modern, to be sure. In addition, the company's new identity is the "platform for amazing things" and its mission statement is "furthering human progress through technology."
More specifically, CenturyLink -- er, Lumen -- aims to be the core fiber backbone that enables the fourth industrial revolution, more commonly known as the Internet of Things. Within that, the press release about the name change highlighted adaptive networking, network security applications, communication and collaboration solutions, and importantly, edge computing. Edge computing will bring workloads and processing closer to customers in order to reduce latency and should require even more new fiber connections to and from cloud data centers and end customers.
Will the market buy it?
I'm not exactly sure that the CenturyLink name matters that much to investors; however, the brand name change could potentially change the perception of the company from customers, who may feel more comfortable going with a "next-gen" tech platform rather than an "old" telecom for their networking and communications needs. If that makes a difference around the edges in terms of customer wins, then the change could be successful.
More important to investors is likely the revenue trajectory for the company. Because CenturyLink is saddled with many legacy products, such as landline phones and copper-based DSL, its overall revenue has been on a steady decline in recent years. In this age of disruption, revenue declines could be a signal of a declining or disrupted business to growth-hungry investors.
However, management claims that underneath those overall declines, its newer fiber-based technologies are growing. Specifically, in the press release announcing the name change, management touted the combined company's modern fiber assets, including 450,000 route miles of fiber and 170,000 "on-net" buildings, meaning office buildings that are directly connected to CenturyLink's network without having to switch fiber networks, which can increase latency. In addition, the company touted its 2,200-plus connections to cloud data centers and more than 100 edge compute "nodes."
"Quantum fiber" for the little guy
CenturyLink also has a residential and small business offering, with many of these customers still on the company's older technology. However, CenturyLink has been investing in fiber offerings for these customers too. The residential and small business fiber will also get a rebrand as "Quantum Fiber," perhaps hoping to differentiate new fiber builds from legacy offerings. In its most recent quarter, CenturyLink revealed that it lost 29,000 consumer broadband customers, but on new fiber connections of 100 mbps and above, it gained 68,000 customers.
That disclosure clearly shows the two ends of the company moving in opposite directions, so it's no surprise to see CenturyLink adopt a new name associating itself with the growing next-gen businesses.
What's looming for Lumen
How will investors know if the name change is working? Well, CenturyLink's stock rose on the news, but it was also a strongly positive day for the markets as well. More likely, if the name change really does change customer perception, investors should see tangible improvements in Lumen's revenue trajectory, perhaps even turning positive at some pint.
Over the past few years, CenturyLink has been able to maintain and even grow its adjusted EBITDA profits as revenue has declined, which was impressive. To management's credit, it has wrung out lots of costs out of the business and harvested hundreds of millions in synergies in the wake of the company's 2017 merger with Level 3 Communications. The company has also been paying down its big debt load and refinancing legacy notes at lower rates.
If the name change does mark a new growth chapter for the company, than this value stock could lead to big gains for investors. Time will tell.