The Bush administration's decision to not challenge a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling against the Federal Communications Commission will block "network unbundling" rules previously scheduled to go into effect on June 15. Briefly, network unbundling mandated that incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) -- the old guard -- provide the network elements and pricing necessary for competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) -- the upstarts -- to compete without having to lay network infrastructure themselves.
Forced to share their networks at government-mandated prices, ILECs like Verizon
As for the CLECs, this latest news is troubling. Upstart Talk America
Clearly, pricing uncertainty exists for Talk America, AT&T
Granted, Talk America delivers a return on equity (ROE) in the hundreds. And the company, at least, thinks its stock is cheap and is buying back $50 million of its shares. For investors, though, the question is: When you compete on price, and your costs are rising, what will your future operating margins be? Already, for Talk America, they languish at a less than stellar 12.9%.
Uncertainty will continue to loom until new contracts are negotiated. Until then, investors would be wise to ignore valuation metrics that appear historically cheap. Sometimes stocks look cheap for a reason. Given Talk America's uncertain future, the screaming value is a mirage.
Fool contributor W.D. Crotty owns stock in Verizon.