In October, Verizon Communications (VZ) raised their quarterly dividend 7% to $.46 a share from $.43 cents, with a dividend yield at today’s price now 5.67%. Verizon should be able to defend its dividend in the next 12 months. The communications company is estimated to grow EPS 4% in the next four quarters, a slower rate than 2008’s 8%, but enough to cover the current dividend. The expected dividend payout ratio for 2009 is 69% percent of earnings, which is comfortably nested between the payout ratios from 2007 - 70% and 2008 - 67%. However, at today’s market price the company appears to be trading at a premium.
Verizon In The Bear Market
Two aspects of Verizon that I believe really help them in the current market conditions are their contract agreements and bundled services. The majority of Verizon Wireless customers are locked into a 2 year contract, with a steep termination fee of a couple hundred dollars, which will help retain customers through this recession. Secondly, Verizon has created a value bundle of their home product line that includes FIOS high speed internet, digital TV, and phone lines. Revenue for their bundled packages was up 45% year-over-year in the 3rd quarter reported in October. When families consider cutting their bills in these hard times, the Verizon package has strengthened its attraction.
“Can you hear me now?” Verizon spent $2.5 billion on its successful advertising campaign in 2007, continuing to grow its already powerful brand name.
Verizon has two product and service segments - wireline and domestic wireless that serve businesses and consumers.
The wireline segment was 54% of revenue in 2007 with sales of $50 billion and an above industry average 27.3% EBITDA profit margin. Wireline consists of voice, VOIP, internet access, and digital television. The segment has 41 million lines in 150 countries, with 85% of revenue comes from the United States.
The wireless segment is run exclusively in the U.S. and in the most recent quarter Verizon added a net 2.1 million subscribers. The EBITDA profit margin for the wireless segment is 44.2%.
The two major risks for Verizon are cut-throat competition and the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The company faces both solidified communications companies and cutting edge start-ups. Most notably, the company’s wireline phone services have to compete with low or zero cost voice-over-internet-providers like Vonage and the MagicJack which plugs into the a computer USB port and only costs about $20 a year.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 permits competitors to buy Verizon’s services at a discount and resell them in the marketplace. This cuts into Verizon’s profit margins and ability to add subscribers. However, since the act was put into law in 1996 the company’s bottom line has risen tremendously, so you can make the case that the act has only a slight negative effect that hurts every company in the industry equally.
Additionally, Verizon has a unsettlingly low current ratio of .68 and debt-to-equity of .88. The firm clearly uses a lot of debt to aggressively grow earnings, and if they begin to lose market share from stiff competition their high leverage will backfire.
More Information on Verizon
You can visit http://investor.verizon.com/ to read Verizon’s latest quarterly and annual report.
Verizon is not poised to break any earnings growth records in 2009, but the company is competitively positioned with its bundled packages to fight this recession and retain past growth rates when we return to a bull market. I believe that if Benjamin Graham could comment, he would conclude that Verizon is not a value investment at today’s price of $32.47. The company does not meet the 2-1 current ratio requirment, nor is it trading 40% below its 52-week high. But, if you can buy shares between $25-$28 the company becomes much more attractive and you can benefit from a sturdy dividend yield between 6 and 7.5%.
Full disclosure: None.