If you live in the Denver metro area, as I do, you know Qwest
This stock story didn't improve much in the third quarter, but it didn't get worse, either. Revenue fell 10%, yet operating income improved 7% thanks to cost cuts.
The cuts were significant: Capital expenditures fell 27%, and head count was down 10%. Overall operating expenses fell 12%.
Where was the growth, you ask? Good question. Qwest's press release touts a near-30% increase in "adjusted free cash flow," but cash from operations -- the most important number in the free cash flow equation -- improved just 6% year over year. Capex cuts and working capital improvements provided the bulk of the adjusted cash flow gain, and that may not be sustainable.
"A reduction in projected network volumes, lower maintenance capital requirements, and fewer project-specific requirements have contributed to lower capital expenditures throughout 2009," reads Qwest's earnings release.
Translation: We didn't spend because we aren't making enough to justify the investment.
If that's sounds bad, it's because it is. Investments create new revenue streams. But management may have no other choice but to hold back. Wireless subscriber growth, an area of strength for AT&T
The good news -- yes, there is good news -- is that while Qwest is steering wireless customers to Verizon, the company has enough capital to survive as is. Yield chasers will appreciate the company's continued commitment to pay an $0.08-per-share quarterly dividend, a 9.00% yield at current prices.
Trouble is, as great as dividends can be, Qwest could cut or end its dividend payment at any time, as Bank of America
That's why we pity you, Qwest. We don't want to -- I don't want to -- but we can all envision the day when the last thing you have to offer investors, your dividend, falls prey to management's knife.