BofA/Merrill Lynch Sees Buying Opportunity in Tower Stocks (PCS, VZ, VOD, S, AMT, CCI, SBAC)

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For more than four years the wireless tower stocks were among the most impressive gainers, even as the markets sputtered back and forth. They became the darlings of the momentum traders and every dip caught a frenzy of buying. That momentum started to wane at the beginning of 2013 and has led to underperformance of 5% to 8% among the top-rated stocks. In a new report Bank of America Corp.’s (NYSE: BAC) Merrill Lynch unit thinks the selling and potential consolidation in the industry provide an excellent buying opportunity.

In their report, the analysts at Merrill Lynch pointed to four specific sector points as a basis for their thesis.

  1. Valuation remains attractive in a historical context.
  2. The wireless carrier spending outlook is strengthening.
  3. Exposure to consolidation risk is diminished through long-term lease agreements signed in recent years.
  4. The interest rate and inflation environment remains favorable relative to history.

They cite the primary reason that towers have underperformed as caution surrounding potential wireless merger and acquisition outcomes, specifically T-Mobile’s acquisition of MetroPCS Communications Inc. (NYSE: PCS). The market also may be keeping an eye on the Softbank merger with Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) and the potential for a Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) deal with Vodafone Group PLC (NASDAQ: VOD) to acquire the rest of Verizon wireless they do not currently own.

These combined reasons add up to a buying opportunity for the following three industry leaders.

Boston-based American Tower Corp. (NYSE: AMT), which operates as a real estate investment trust (REIT), is on the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch buy list with a price target of $85. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is right in line at $85.

Another stock to buy is Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI). With wireless towers and infrastructure in the United States, Puerto Rico and Australia, the price target in today’s report is $80. The Wall St. estimate is $81.

Rounding out the top three stocks to buy is SBA Communications Corp. (NASDAQ: SBAC). With towers in the United States, Canada and Central and South America, and a market cap of over $9 billion, the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch price target is $75. The consensus target is higher at $82.

Looking back to the beginning of 2005, on those occasions when tower stocks underperformed the S&P 500 over a two-week rolling period, they have outperformed over the following two-week period 61% of the time. Similarly, over this time frame, when tower stocks have on average underperformed the S&P 500 over a 30-day rolling period, they have outperformed the S&P 500 over the following 30-day period 57% of the time. And when tower stocks have underperformed the S&P 500 over an entire quarter, they have outperformed the S&P 500 60% of the time in the following quarter.

What this may mean is the time to act is now. These periods of underperformance have been rare. Investors may want to buy first and ask questions later as the window of opportunity may close quickly.

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