Rural telecom giant Frontier Communications (NASDAQ:FTR) just reported results for the third quarter of 2014. Frontier's shares stayed within 1% of Monday's closing prices, as the results stuck close to analyst projections.
The company reported adjusted third-quarter earnings of $0.05 per share on $1.14 billion in total sales. Revenue was exactly in line with Wall Street's consensus estimates, while earnings came in just a hair above the $0.04 analyst target.
This report marked the seventh consecutive quarter of significant growth in broadband customer counts, followed by sequential revenue increases in both the business-class and residential client divisions.
Moreover, Frontier recently closed the long-awaited acquisition of AT&T's (NYSE:T) wireline operations in Massachusetts. Frontier COO and president Dan McCarthy said that the acquired assets have "hit the ground running." Connecticut customers are already being introduced to Frontier's products and services, and cost savings from this buyout are expected to hit $150 million over the first year.
Not counting the massive Connecticut deal, Frontier lost 0.8% of its consumer subscriptions during the quarter while business lines fell by 1.3%. On the other hand, broadband accounts rose by 1.1%. The net result of these changes to Frontier's service mix is higher average revenues per customer. Total sales declined by 0.6% year-over-year.
Through the first three quarters of 2014, Frontier paid out 50% of its free cash flows through dividend checks. That's roughly in line with the trailing cash payout ratio in the second quarter, and one of the lowest such ratios in the specialty telecom industry.
CenturyLink (NYSE:CTL) funnels 58% of its free cash into dividend payments, and Windstream's (OTC:WINMQ) ratio hovers near 80%.None of these micro-trends should surprise Frontier's shareholders, as broadband sales have been absorbing the business value of old-fashioned voice lines ever since the rise of smartphones. Frontier's future is tied to broadband sales, and to TV services delivered over the same high-speed Internet connections.
Both CenturyLink and Windstream are set to report their own results later this week, painting a fuller picture of the wireline telecom sector's general health. So far, Frontier's report points to a fairly uneventful quarter, long on stability and short on surprises.