Why Oppenheimer Now Prefers CenturyLink Over AT&T

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Investors look through various research reports to find new value in many different forms. In this case one key analyst firm is making a large shift and announcing its change in preference.

It turns out that Oppenheimer has decided to make a key upgrade and downgrade in November. CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) was upgraded, while telecom giant AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was downgraded. AT&T has outperformed the markets for the year thus far, but Oppenheimer sees a shift in the winds and CenturyLink may be more valuable going forward.

AT&T was downgraded to Perform from Outperform at Oppenheimer while CenturyLink was raised to Outperform from Perform with a $30 price target (versus a $23.32 prior close). As a reminder, the CenturyLink and Level 3 merger may have destroyed their charts long term.

Oppenheimer’s Timothy Horan commented on the move:

We are upgrading CenturyLink to Outperform from Perform with a $30 price target as we believe the sell-off (-24%) in shares after the announcement of the proposed acquisition of Level 3 as well as its 3Q earnings is more than overdone. Negative investor sentiment overlooks the positive aspects of combining the two companies, in our view.

We are downgrading AT&T from Outperform to Perform and removing our $46 price target as we believe CenturyLink’s dividend is relatively more attractive (which on a pro forma basis will be at a 9% yield/68% payout ratio to free cash flow, vs. 5% and 60% for AT&T); we also see the Time Warner merger as facing higher regulatory hurdles and taking more like 15 months to complete vs. 9 for CenturyLink/Level 3. AT&T is also facing some wireless headwinds in the next year.

Shares of AT&T were last seen at $37.02 on Tuesday, with a consensus analyst price target of $41.23 and a 52-week trading range of $32.22 to $43.89.

CenturyLink shares traded up over 3% at $24.11. The consensus price target is $28.20, and the 52-week range is $21.94 to $33.45.