Frontier Communications and Windstream Have a Lot to Prove Next Week

2/27/17

By Rick Munarriz, MotleyFool

There's going to be a lot at stake for investors in regional telcos next week. Frontier Communications (NASDAQ:FTR) reports quarterly results shortly after Monday's market close. Windstream Holdings (NASDAQ:WIN) follows two days later, announcing its fresh financials on Wednesday morning.

Things didn't go so well last time out for either company. Shares of Frontier plummeted 23% for the week when it posted poorly received third-quarter results. Windstream fared relatively better, shedding just 4% of its value the week that it posted its third-quarter results.

Both reports were still problematic. A huge acquisition last year may beef up Frontier's metrics in the near term, but its organic business continues to fade. The $10.54 billion deal for Verizon's (NYSE:VZ) wireline operations in California, Texas, and Florida was initially seen as a way for Frontier to take a big step up. The Verizon deal added 3.7 million landline accounts to Frontier's roster during last year's second quarter, and perhaps more importantly it also picked up 2.2 million high-speed data accounts, including 1.6 million FiOS internet users and 1.2 million FiOS cable television customers.

Beefing up its base of accounts for its fiber-optic and copper networks is important, because folks keep cutting the cord. Frontier's residential customer count declined from 5.228 million to 5.073 million as the third quarter played itself out. Monthly churn is on the rise, and average monthly revenue per residential account is declining. It experienced a slight sequential dip in business customers, too, but at least those accounts are spending more.

Windstream's report was no treat. It posted a much wider loss than analysts were expecting. However, the market generally liked the $1.1 billion deal to acquire EarthLink(NASDAQ:ELNK) that was made official at the time of its earnings. The EarthLink move prompted an analyst upgrade from Cowen. Wall Street wouldn't have been as warm to Windstream if it had to rely solely on its shrinking legacy business.

A map of Frontier's coverage.

IMAGE SOURCE: FRONTIER COMMUNICATIONS.

Heading into the unknown

Windstream shares are back to where they were just before its bumpy third quarter, but Frontier stock has yet to claw its way back from the 23% hole that it dug itself into last time out. The stocks will likely make big moves -- up or down -- based on how their quarterly reports go in the next few days.

Analysts see Frontier clocking in with $2.5 billion in revenue, a 76% surge since the prior year, but that includes the needle-moving Verizon accounts it picked up during the second quarter of last year. Wall Street pros see a modest quarterly loss of $0.05 a share -- Frontier's third straight quarterly deficit.

Windstream's eyeing another rough quarter. Analysts are forecasting revenue to decline 6% to $1.34 billion in Wednesday's pre-open report. They see a chunky loss of $0.63 a share for the period. Windstream recently received regulatory approval to close on its deal with EarthLink, a move that will create a top-line bounce that, like Frontier, will not be organic.

The big draw to both stocks continues to be their fat dividends. Frontier and Windstream are currently yielding 12.5% and 8.3%, respectively. The sustainability of those distributions over the long haul will always be dubious until the companies secure steady organic growth, but the wild trading in both stocks is also proof that yield chasers aren't always buying into risk-averse situations. Things won't be quiet for either stock next week.

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