Should CenturyLink Shares Really Be at 20-Year Lows?

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CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) has had a pretty miserable day after earnings. Yet, things could have been worse when you consider that the reports of delays on tax reform and considering how controversial this stock is for some investors. Now that its acquisition of Level 3 has closed, the actual earnings may be harder to determine against a real benchmark of prior quarters. With Level 3 under its belt, should CenturyLink shares really be challenging 20-year lows?

The company noted that high bandwidth services revenue increased more than 5% on a normalized basis. Operating expenses decreased to $3.55 billion from $3.79 billion a year earlier, but operating income decreased to $487 million from $593 million.

CenturyLink had $0.42 in earnings per share (EPS) and $4.03 billion in revenue in its third quarter. The consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters called for $0.45 in EPS and $4.06 billion in revenue. The third-quarter report last year had EPS of $0.56 and $4.38 billion in revenue.

In terms of guidance, the company anticipates standalone CenturyLink full-year 2017 results to be below its full-year guidance provided earlier in the year. Specifically, CenturyLink is reiterating standalone Level 3 full-year 2017 outlook for adjusted EBITDA of $2.94 billion to $3.00 billion and free cash flow of $1.10 billion to $1.16 billion. All other Level 3 outlook measures also remain unchanged. The consensus estimates call for $1.94 in EPS and $16.41 billion in revenue for the full year.

Jefferies maintained its Hold rating but cut its target to $17 from $22. The firm has one of the lower post-earning targets now, and the research note said:

CenturyLink results disappointed and the FY17 outlook lowered again, though Level 3 results were in line. While we expect the combination should provide substantial synergies and a lofty tax shield, we are incrementally more cautious on the ability to meet the dividend obligation. Despite deal benefits, softer results and continued secular headwinds keep us on the sidelines; we lower our price target to $17.

Other analyst price target cuts have been seen as follows:

  • Cowen lowered its price target to $18 from $24.
  • Deutsche Bank lowered its price target to $16 from $20‍​.
  • JPMorgan lowered its price target from $28 to $26.
  • SunTrust Robinson Humphrey lowered its target to $19 from $25.
  • UBS lowered its price target to $22 from $29.

As far as why things could have been worse than they look right now, CenturyLink shares opened down at $14.80 and drifted lower right after the open. The stock was last seen down 5.7% at $15.33 on more than twice the normal volume in only half of the trading day.

Still, if this was not so bad then you might not have expected the stock to be at 20-year lows.

CenturyLink previously had a 52-week trading range of $16.04 to $27.61, but the new 52-week low is $14.60. Its consensus analyst target was closer to $25 before the drop, and that consensus target price is now $21.14.