There's no beating around the bush: Frontier Communications (NASDAQ:FTR) had a lousy 2015.
The company saw its stock drop from a mid-February high close of $8.42 to a December 13, 2015 close of $4.57, near its low for the year. Often, though, stock price doesn't fully reflect to what a company has actually accomplished. Frontier may have hit some short-term and perhaps even midterm turbulence, but the pain it suffered in 2015 may well prove worth it in the new year.
Frontier took its lumps from a skeptical market, but it enters 2016 about to be a much larger company, and perhaps this will be the year when the cable, internet, and phone company harvests the seeds it has spent the past two years planting.
2015 mistakes should be in the past
Over the past few years, Frontier has been on an acquisition tear. The company's first major purchase, AT&T's (NYSE:T) former wireline and and statewide fiber network, closed in late October 2014, but the first full quarter Frontier owned its new asset was Q1 of calendar 2015.
In the $2 billion deal, Frontier acquired AT&T's U-verse video and satellite TV customers in Connecticut. Its first attempts to serve those customers didn't go smoothly, which affected the company's efforts to go after new subscribers in the state. Frontier even had to give each of the 170,000 cable customers it purchased from AT&T a $50 credit because of widespread customer-service problems that were reported to state regulatory groups, The Hartford Courant reported.
The company struggled in its first months in its home state (it's headquartered in Stamford, Conn.), generating a stunning number of complaints. In the 2014 period between late October and early December, Frontier consumers filed more than 900 complaints with the state Department of Consumer Protection, 200 with the state attorney general's office, and 240 with the state's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, according to the Courant.
Call those early mistakes growing pains that it took the company much of 2015 to fully rectify. But as the year ended, Frontier had at least somewhat cleaned up its act and began again to heavily advertise its services as a rival for traditional cable and telephone company broadband, pay television, and phone services.
Maybe it will be ready next time
In early December, Frontier received the last regulatory approval it needed to complete a $10.54 billion acquisition, which includes Verizon's wireline, broadband, and video operations and FiOS networks in California, Florida, and Texas.
This deal, which was first announced in February, will give Frontier 3.7 million voice connections, 2.2 million broadband connections, and 1.2 million FiOS video connections, the company said in a press release.
"This transaction marks a natural evolution for our company and leverages our proven skills and established track record from previous integrations," said then-CEO Maggie Wilderotter.
Perhaps an established track record isn't exactly what Frontier wants to go on, but it's reasonable to say it eventually got things right in Connecticut. This deal is much bigger, but it seems possible, if not likely, that the mistakes of the past should let Frontier integrate these new properties more smoothly.
The transaction is expected to close at the end of March 2016.
It looks like a big year
The Frontier that will operate after this latest acquisition takes effect will be twice as large. That's not a guarantee of success, but it does create the opportunity for the company to have bigger highs.
If Frontier can execute, keep its new users happy, and continue to add customers, then 2016 could be its biggest year ever. Assuming the company learned from its rocky start in Connecticut, as it appears to have done, then it should know what not to do with its new properties. That gives management and shareholders a decent shot at seeing the stock recover to its 2014 glory, or maybe even growing beyond that.