Frontier Communications Hits New Low (FTR, PCS, LEAP, VZ, VOD, T, S, DTEGY, AAPL, CTL)

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Frontier Communications Corp. (NASDAQ: FTR) missed its consensus first quarter EPS estimate this morning and the company’s shares are getting pummeled. The miss was close: EPS of $0.05, a penny below the consensus estimate. Revenue of $1.268 billion was slightly better than the estimate of $1.26 billion.

What’s killing shares today is the same thing that drubbed MetroPCS Communications Inc. (NYSE: PCS) and Leap Wireless International Inc. (NASDAQ: LEAP): subscriber growth is either weak or non-existent. Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone Group plc (NASDAQ: VOD) and AT&T Inc,. (NYSE: T) are adding subscribers, especially to wireless offerings, but even they are not growing as fast as before. Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile USA, a division of Deutsche Telekom AG (OTC: DTEGY) face the same problems.

It’s worse for the smaller guys, though, because they either cannot offer the hottest products, like the iPhone from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) or because they’re stuck with a lot of legacy wireline business that is continuing to erode. CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), which reports earnings on Wednesday, is expected to post EPS of $0.58, down more than -22% from the same period last year and down about -6.5% sequentially. CenturyLink, though much larger than Frontier or the others, owns a lot of wireline business.

Frontier’s residential subscriber number dropped from 3.34 million in the first quarter of last year to 3.04 million this year. Wireline revenue was also down, from $589 million to $535 million. Business services revenues also fell, from $591 million to $585 million, and the number of business subscribers also fell, from about 333,400 to 302,100. The number of broadband subscribers rose, as did the number of video subscribers. Consequently the revenue figures per customer rose as well. Just not very much.

Growth prospects for Frontier and the other small players are quite dim as they are spectrum-limited and face stiff competition from the big players. Worse, perhaps, is that there is not likely to be any competition among the big players to pick up these smaller competitors. If anything, Verizon and AT&T would prefer to abandon their dwindling wireline businesses. But CenturyLink is still absorbing its acquisition of Qwest and none of the others can — or probably should — to add to their wireline holdings.

Frontier’s shares are down about -58% just after noon today, at $3.67 after posting a new 52-week low of $3.49 earlier today. The prior range was $3.81-$8.97.

Paul Ausick