This past year, the SEC determined that companies were abusing the term EBITDA, and introduced a new, more perfect non-GAAP term: "OIBDA." In a Motley Fool exclusive, I hereby ignore spelling convention and pronounce this Oh-Bee-Dah. Heck, if IUPUI can be Ooo-eee-poo-eee and Antawn Jamison can be An-twan, why can't OIBDA be Oh-Bee-Dah?
And that's all I have to say about that. Except this: Apparently, Level 3 Communications'
Level 3's most recent quarter wasn't just a little bit bad. I'd call today's release an earnings report, but that would imply that the company reported, oh, I don't know, earnings. Not OIBDA, not adjusted OIBDA -- earnings. It did not. Level 3 lost $121 million for the quarter, $711 million for the year. Once again, the company generated operating cash flow, since it has enormous depreciation expenses related to its telecommunications infrastructure, but these were drowned by continued high capital expenditures, resulting in a net free cash flow loss of $167 million.
More or less, the market expected these kinds of results. Level 3 competes in a brutal telecommunications market, where overcompetition continues to make economic competition nigh upon impossible. But the market did not expect the dour predictions for the upcoming year. Level 3 warned that 2004 would continue to be challenging due to an anticipated cutback by one of its largest customers, Time Warner's
Apparently, AOL determined that it can lower its usage of dial-up services provided by Level 3, something Level 3 expects to impact revenues by $100 million to $150 million. Yowza. Any time a company that is already unprofitable announces that it foresees "a high single-digit percentage decline," you may rest assured that things are not going well.
On the call (transcript provided by CCBN), Level 3's management stated that it saw continued "challenges" in pricing and demand for its core optical transport business, as well as in Internet protocol -- a business that had some investors in a bit of a lather. As core elements of Level 3's business, this bodes quite poorly for the near future.
With some of its $5 billion in debt coming closer to maturity, Level 3 is simply running out of time to get the ship turned in the right direction. Being the low-cost provider in many of its markets gives the company a chance, but it certainly has to hope for a better telecom market. Offering rock-bottom prices for a service that isn't in demand doesn't seem to be enough.
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