Is Verizon (VZ) Stock a Buy Ahead of January 23 Earnings Release?

With a market cap of $156.86 billion, Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) is a leading provider of communications, information technology, and entertainment products and services to consumers, businesses, and governmental entities globally. The company is scheduled to report fourth-quarter 2023 earnings on January 23, 2024.

Analysts expect VZ’s revenue and EPS for the fourth quarter (ending December 2023) to decline 2% and 8.9% year-over-year to $34.55 billion and $1.08, respectively.

For the fiscal year 2023, Street expects the company’s revenue to decrease 2.5% year-over-year to $133.47 billion. The consensus EPS estimate of $4.69 for the current year indicates a decline of 9.4% year-over-year.

Shares of VZ have plunged nearly 1% over the past five days but gained more than 2% over the past six months. On the other hand, the benchmark S&P 500 has surged approximately 1.7% over the past five days and more than 9% over the past six months.

While VZ’s stock has underperformed the S&P 500 lately, the telecom company remains attractive for income-focused investors, given its reliable dividend.

Now, let’s review the key factors that could influence VZ’s performance in the near term:

Mixed Last Reported Financial Results

For the third quarter that ended on September 30, 2023, VZ reported revenue of $33.34 billion, slightly surpassing analysts’ estimate of $33.31 billion. However, this compared to the revenue of $34.24 billion in the same quarter of 2022. The decline was primarily due to reduced wireless equipment revenue and lower postpaid upgrade activity.

But the company’s wireless service revenue came in at $19.30 billion, up 2.9% year-over-year. This increase was mainly driven by targeted pricing actions implemented in recent quarters, the larger allocation of administrative and telco recovery fees from other revenue into wireless service revenue, and growth from fixed wireless offerings.

During the quarter, total broadband net additions were 434,000, representing the fourth straight quarter in which Verizon reported more than 400,000 broadband net additions. Total broadband net additions included 384,000 fixed wireless net additions, an increase of 42,000 fixed wireless net additions from the third quarter of 2022.

The telecom giant currently has nearly 10.3 million total broadband subscribers, including around 2.7 million subscribers on its fixed wireless service. The company reported 72,000 Fios Internet net additions, up from 61,000 Fios Internet net additions in the prior year’s quarter. 

Verizon’s third-quarter operating income declined 5.3% year-over-year to $7.47 billion. Its net income was $4.88 billion, a decrease of 2.8% from the prior year’s quarter. The company posted an adjusted EPS of $1.22, surpassing the consensus estimate of $1.18, but down 7.6% year-over-year.

The company’s adjusted EBITDA for the quarter grew 0.2% year-over-year to $12.20 billion. Its year-to-date cash flow from operations was $28.80 billion, up from $28.20 billion in 2022. Also, free cash flow year-to-date totaled $14.60 billion, an increase from $12.40 billion in the prior year.

VZ’s unsecured debt as of the end of the third quarter decreased by $4.90 billion sequentially to $126.40 billion. At the end of third-quarter 2023, the company’s ratio of unsecured debt to net income (LTM) was nearly 5.9 times, and its net unsecured debt to adjusted EBITDA was approximately 2.6 times.

Raised Free Cash Flow Guidance

“We continued to make steady progress in the third quarter with a clear focus on growing wireless service revenue, delivering healthy consolidated adjusted EBITDA and increasing free cash flow,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg. 

After reporting solid third-quarter results momentum, Verizon raised its free cash flow guidance for the full year 2023. The company expects free cash flow above $18 billion, an increase of $1 billion from the previously issued guidance. Cash flow from operations is expected in the range of $36.25 billion to $37.25 billion.

In addition, for 2023, the company expects total wireless service revenue growth of 2.5% to 4.5%. Its adjusted EBITDA and adjusted EPS are projected to be $47-$48.50 billion and $4.55-$4.85, respectively.

Attractive Dividend

On December 7, VZ declared a quarterly dividend of 66.50 cents ($0.665) per outstanding share. The dividend is payable on February 1, 2024, to Verizon shareholders of record at the close of business on January 10, 2024.

“We are committed to delivering value to our customers and shareholders as we execute on our focused network strategy,” said Hans Vestberg. “Our financial discipline and strong cash flow continue to put the company in a position for the Board to declare a quarterly dividend.”

Verizon has around 4.2 billion shares of common stock outstanding. The company made more than $8.2 billion in cash dividend payments in the last three quarters.

VZ pays an annual dividend of $2.66, which translates to a yield of 7.13% at the current share price. Its four-year average dividend yield is 5.42%. The company has raised its dividend for 17 consecutive years, the longest current streak of dividend increases in the U.S. telecom industry.

Progress in 5G Network Buildout

On December 21, Verizon announced the expansion of its reliable 4G and high-speed 5G service throughout Florida, Kennesaw, GA, and Aiken County, SC, among other areas.

This service is part of the company’s massive multi-year network transformation, which has not only brought 5G service to more than 230 million people and 5G home internet service to nearly 40 million households but has also added more capabilities, upgraded the technology in the network, paving the way for personalized customer experiences and offering a platform for enterprises to boost innovation.

According to a report by Grand View Research, the global 5G services market is projected to reach $2.21 trillion by 2030, expanding at a CAGR of 59.4% during the forecast period (2023-2030). Meanwhile, North America 5G services market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 51.6% from 2023 to 2030.

The growing demand for high-speed data connectivity worldwide, rising investments in 5G infrastructure, and rapid integration of advanced technologies like IoT and AI are estimated to propel the adoption of 5G services. Verizon is well-positioned to capitalize on the significant 5G adoption and fixed wireless broadband network momentum.

Fierce Competition

While Verizon continues to accelerate the availability of its 5G ultra-wideband network across the country, the company faces heightened competition from wireless industry players, including AT&T, Inc. (T), T-Mobile US, Inc. (TMUS), Vodafone Group Plc (VOD), and SK Telecom Co., Ltd. (SKM).

Mixed Historical Growth

VZ’s revenue grew at a CAGR of 1.5% over the past three years. But its EBIT decreased at a CAGR of 0.3% over the same period. The company’s net income and EPS improved at CAGRs of 4.5% and 4% over the same time frame, respectively.

Further, the company’s levered free cash flow increased at a CAGR of 20.1% over the same period, and its total assets improved at a CAGR of 9%.

Robust Profitability

VZ’s trailing-12-month gross profit margin and EBIT margin of 58.69% and 22.87% are 20% and 183.1% higher than the industry averages of 48.90% and 8.08%, respectively. Likewise, the stock’s trailing-12-month net income margin of 15.58% is significantly higher than the industry average of 3.21%.

Additionally, the stock’s trailing-12-month ROCE, ROTC, and ROTA of 22.56%, 7.04%, and 5.43% are considerably higher than the respective industry averages of 3.41%, 3.55%, and 1.24%. Its trailing-12-month levered FCF margin of 13.31% is 73.9% higher than the industry average of 7.65%.

Mixed Valuation

In terms of forward non-GAAP P/E, VZ is currently trading at 7.95x, 49.1% lower than the industry average of 15.62x. The stock’s forward EV/EBITDA of 6.96x is 20.3% lower than the industry average of 8.73x. Also, its forward Price/Book and Price/Cash Flow of 1.57x and 4.23x compared to the industry averages of 1.99x and 10.03x, respectively.

However, the stock’s forward non-GAAP PEG multiple of 32.47 is significantly higher than the industry average of 1.54. Its forward EV/Sales of 2.49x is 34.7% higher than the industry average of 1.85x.

Analyst Price Targets

On December 19, Oppenheimer analyst Timothy Horan maintained a Buy rating on VZ and set a price target of $43 on the stock. In addition, Verizon received a Buy rating from Citi’s Michael Rollins in a report issued on December 13. However, Well Fargo maintained a Hold rating on VZ’s stock.

Bottom Line

Verizon’s disciplined approach to driving strong cash flow, operating the business, and serving its customers allowed it to raise its dividend for the 17th consecutive year.

However, analysts appear bearish about the telecom company’s near-term prospects. Verizon’s revenue and EPS growth will likely face challenges, and this slowdown is primarily attributed to fierce competition from leading industry players such as AT&T and T-Mobile, which are consistently undergoing significant changes in their operations.

Given slowing revenue and EPS growth, heightened competition, and mixed valuation, it seems prudent to wait for a better entry point in this stock.

Is Ford Motor (F) the New Tesla (TSLA)?

More than a year has passed since an announcement on April 26, 2022, by Ford Motor Company (F) CEO Jim Farley, regarding the company’s intent to challenge Tesla, Inc. (T) as the global EV leader.

Since then, the Detroit automaker has made huge strides in the electric mobility space. It has pipped TSLA to the pickup segment by beginning production of its F-150 Lightning and benchmarked the Model Y for its Mustang Mach-E crossover. While TSLA is still the runaway leader, F notched 61,575 fully-electric vehicle sales to emerge as the challenger in the U.S., something the legacy automaker planned to achieve by mid-decade.

Since both rivals are expected to battle it out for a greater share of the electric-mobility pie, it is understandable why an unexpected announcement by the CEO of both companies to join hands to enlarge the pie took the industry and markets by pleasant surprise.

On Thursday, May 25, during a live audio discussion on Twitter Spaces, Jim Farley and Elon Musk announced an agreement on charging initiatives for Ford’s current and future electric vehicles. Under the agreement, current Ford owners will be granted access to more than 12,000 Tesla Superchargers across the U.S. and Canada starting early next year.

Moreover, the next generation of Ford EVs, expected by mid-decade, will include TSLA’s charging plug, enabling owners to charge their vehicles at Tesla Superchargers without an adapter while using Ford’s software.
A separate Ford spokesman later added that pricing for charging “will be competitive in the marketplace.” The companies will disclose further details closer to a launch date, anticipated in 2024.

Following this announcement, which makes F among the first automakers to explicitly tie into the TSLA network, the former’s stock rose by 6.2% on May 26, closing at $12.09 per share, while the latter’s shares also climbed by 4.7%, ending the week at $193.17.
In this article, we elaborate on why the optimism makes sense.

Firstly, as F is ramping up its production to double its EV capacity this year and looks on course to get to two million in a couple of years, with public charging of electric vehicles being a major concern for potential buyers, charging infrastructure is going to be critical for the company in order to ensure that it delivers a superior after-purchase experience to its customers.

TSLA is the only automaker that has successfully built out its own network of fast chargers, which gives the EV leader an edge over its competitors, whose partnerships with third-party companies have left much room for improvement in reliability and reach.
However, with the announcement, F has managed to more than double its existing capacity of 10,000 fast chargers with 12,000 well-located TSLA Superchargers. Moreover, leveraging TSLA’s superior NACS charging technology is F’s attempt to ensure that it is on what Elon Musk has described as “equal footing” in its completion with the incumbent.

Secondly, opening up 12,000 Superchargers in its network of currently 45,000 connectors worldwide at 4,947 Supercharger Stations could benefit TSLA in multiple ways.

White House officials announced in February that TSLA has committed to open up 7,500 of its charging stations by the end of 2024 to non-Tesla EV drivers. The agreement with F would help the company make progress on that front.

By diversifying from being a competitor to doubling up as an infrastructure provider, the EV leader has hedged its bets to benefit from the increasing presence of legacy automakers in the electric mobility space.

While the company is expected to dominate EV sales in the foreseeable future, the revenue from its Supercharging stations, which is included under the “services and other” segment, is also expected to witness remarkable growth due to increased network utilization by non-Tesla EV drivers.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, this partnership could be the initiation of the strategic masterstroke that impacts the entire EV ecosystem. As discussed earlier, while TSLA uses NACS charging technology, the rest of the industry has adopted relatively-slower CCS charging.

With two-leading EV manufacturers joining hands and F being ‘totally committed’ to a single U.S. charging protocol that includes the Tesla plug port, EV strategies of other auto manufacturers, such as GM and STLA, could come under increased pressure.

According to Jim Farley, the others “are going to have a big choice to make. Do they want to have fast charging for customers? Or do they want to stick to their standard and have less charging?”

In this context, it wouldn’t be surprising if Musk’s statement, “Working with Ford, and perhaps others, can make it the North American standard, I think that consumers will be all better for it,” turns out to be the beginning of yet another victory lap for the illustrious CEO.