Do you use AT&T (T) as your cell phone provider? How long have you used it as your provider? A long time probably, since AT&T is a behemoth of a company. Founded in 1983 and currently holds 230,000 employees. It’s as close to a dinosaur as you may think since it has been around forever.
Verizon Communications (VZ) is the only telecom service bigger than AT&T, with a market cap of $218.48 billion, and was founded in 1983 as well. AT&T’s market cap is $176.95 billion. Closing in on (T) is T-mobile US (TMUS), with a market cap of $150.59 billion.
AT&T will spin off a part of their business (WarnerMedia) and merge it with Discovery Inc (DISCA). Expect the merger to close out by mid-2022. It’s preferable to wait for the completion of the merge and see how other investors react to the price. It is a cheap stock looking like a bargain, but it could get “more affordable,” if you know what I mean.
Their 5YR P/E is currently at 11.78, making it very attractive and hinting at undervalued or discounted prices. However, return on investment (ROI), assets (ROA), and equity (ROE) are all subpar, with a return of under 2% on all of them. Big red flag for me.
An eye-popping dividend at 8.5%, which makes many investors salivate. However, we can expect a cut next year once the merger is complete with high certainty. Also, the dividend paid takes about 60% of the Free Cash Flow (FCF), which is not good if you have debt or are trying to grow the business. Currently, a total of $15 Billion is paid off in dividends by the $25 Billion of FCF. That leaves (T) with only $10 Billion of FCF to pay debt and grow the company.
To make matters worse, their FCF is $23.44 billion. As a rule of thumb, we can multiply that amount by 5 (5YR projection), and we get a total of $117.2 billion. We would love to see their debt under $117 billion. However, their total long-term debt is sitting at an outstanding $284.2 billion, which more than doubles our estimated numbers. It means that (T) has too much debt relative to their free cash on hand.
Understand that FCF is critical because you can do many great things to help your company when you have free cash. Things like paying down debt, buying back shares, reinvesting in the company, making acquisitions, or paying dividends. As a result, the excellent use of FCF will be more appealing to shareholders than paying a hefty dividend while burying themselves in debt. Just think about it, is the bank willing to lend money to the guy with little to no debt or the guy that makes $50K a year but owes over $200K?
Their revenue has grown slowly over the last 5 years. I like that. It is preferable to see slow and steady growth than a chart that looks like a cardiogram with random spikes. When reality sets in, those spikes are always followed by crashes. My only concern is that although they have acquired many smaller companies, their revenue growth has not shown much improvement.
Following that, their Net Income has shrunk for the last 5 years from $12 billion in 2017 to $1 billion in 2021. Another reason for concern besides their shrinking income is the outstanding shares have gone up from 6.1 billion to 7.1 billion. We want the outstanding shares to shrink and net income to grow. But, just like Santa Claus got it backward when I asked for a lean body and a fat wallet, AT&T got confused as well and had it all backward.
Not all is bad news with (T). They have grown their FCF from $15 billion to $28 billion. The average FCF for the last 5 years is about $23.4 billion. Estimating this average can be kept for the next 20 years, we can calculate a market cap of about $468 billion. In the beginning, we said the current market cap is $176.95 billion. Our numbers suggest that this metric undervalues it.
(T)’s good points: Low P/E, big dividend (suitable for investors looking for cash flow), slow but steady revenue growth, slow and steady FCF growth, and “undervalued” per FCF metric.
(T)’s bad points: Not sure what to expect from the spin-off merger as far as price action, meager returns on ROI, ROA & ROE. There is a high probability of seeing a cut on the dividend, and their debt is too high. Revenue has not grown much despite their acquisitions. Net income is shrinking, and outstanding shares are rising.
Right now (T) has a lot of work to do. The negative points about the company outweigh the positive. This is only a starting point, so ensure you research and analyze before investing. I believe AT&T has to implement better use of their FCF, lower their debt, generate better returns for their shareholders or they will be painfully looking at their market value fall into a quiet and deathly take over. Therefore, we will only trade (T) with a dividend catch strategy. The only way to consider a long-term position is if the price falls below $20.
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