Frontier Communications Faces More Serious High-Yield Dividend Concerns

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Frontier Communications Corp. (NASDAQ: FTR) keeps facing ever tougher news headlines. While investors hate to see Sell ratings issued on their stocks, those who still risk their money by holding shares of Frontier have to be getting nervous. While stocks that hit 52-week lows tend to keep hitting 52-week lows, what do investors have to wonder if a stock is challenging a multi-decade low?

Merrill Lynch recently threw in the towel on a major Buy rating on Frontier with a significant downgrade. That mattered because Merrill Lynch was Frontier’s most ambitious analyst call up to that point. Now it is Goldman Sachs out with a significant downgrade.

Wednesday’s top analyst upgrades and downgrades showed that Frontier Communications was downgraded to Sell from an already cautious Neutral rating by Goldman Sachs. Perhaps the real insult was that the firm lowered — make that slashed — its price target to $1.50 from $3.00 in the call. Frontier shares had closed at $2.36 on Tuesday, and the shares were indicated down 7% at $2.19 on Wednesday’s early morning trading. At the midday mark, those shares were down 11% at $2.10.

What should panic investors is that Frontier’s prior 52-week trading range was $2.31 to $5.75. Wednesday’s drop was also on high volume of 41.5 million shares at 11:30 Eastern Time, versus about 34 million shares on an average day’s volume.

Goldman Sachs believes that the fundamental trends in traditional wireline telecom companies remain weak. The firm worries about a sharper decline in broadband subscribers and structural challenges that carriers face as they compete with higher capacity networks.

Goldman Sachs analyst Brett Feldman further warned that Frontier just cannot support its high dividend and somehow manage to deleverage its balance sheet. What matters here is that Frontier’s dividend yield is now screening out above 15%. This is one reason that Frontier always has a significant short interest, likely because trying to explain the dividend is not very simple compared with other better-heeled telecom and infrastructure stocks.

Goldman Sachs also is opining that Frontier may suspend its dividend in the first quarter. This would be to build the company’s balance sheet liquidity as the company will face significant debt maturities that run from 2020 through 2022. While the firm feels that the market in general is factoring in a 50% drop to Frontier’s dividend payout, it warns that this is likely not enough of a cut to support deleveraging over the longer term.

Frontier shares had hit a low of $2.06 on Wednesday morning. The most recent short interest released by Nasdaq was as of the February 28, 2017 settlement date, and that showed a massive short interest listed as some 237.6 million shares.

Reuters reported that Frontier was now trading at a 34-year low. Even if the first sell-off since the election has been seen, investors need to consider that the U.S. stock market is trading just under its all-time highs.