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U.S. Cellular (USM) Down 21.9% Since Last Earnings Report: Can It Rebound?

Zacks Equity Research

It has been about a month since the last earnings report for United States Cellular (USM). Shares have lost about 21.9% in that time frame, underperforming the S&P 500.

Will the recent negative trend continue leading up to its next earnings release, or is U.S. Cellular due for a breakout? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at the most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important drivers.

U.S. Cellular Misses on Q2 Earnings, Cuts Revenue View

U.S. Cellular reported lackluster second-quarter 2019 financial results, wherein both the top line and the bottom line missed the respective Zacks Consensus Estimate.

Net Income

On a GAAP basis, net income for the June quarter was $31 million or 35 cents per share compared with $49 million or 56 cents per share in the year-ago quarter due to lower operating income. The bottom line missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 7 cents.

Revenues

Quarterly total operating revenues remained almost flat year over year at $973 million on the back of higher service revenues. However, the momentum was more than offset by lower revenues from equipment sales. The top line lagged the consensus estimate of $1,002 million.

While revenues from service increased 2.3% year over year to $757 million, the same from equipment sales were down 7.3% to $216 million primarily due to decline in gross additions.

Other Details

Total operating expenses were up 2.7% year over year to $943 million on account of higher depreciation and amortization charges. Operating income was $30 million compared with $56 million in the prior-year quarter. Adjusted EBITDA grew 3.6% year over year to $257 million.

Operating Metrics

While total cell sites in service were 6,535 at the end of the reported quarter compared with 6,478 a year ago, company-owned towers were 4,116 compared with 4,105.

As of Jun 30, 2019, postpaid ARPU (average revenue per user) increased to $45.90 from $44.74, postpaid ARPA (average revenue per account) was $119.46 compared with $118.57. Postpaid churn rose to 1.23% from 1.19% reported a year ago. Prepaid ARPU increased to $34.43 from $32.32 and prepaid churn decreased to 4.20% from 4.83%.

Cash Flow & Liquidity

During the first six months of 2019, U.S. Cellular generated $476 million of net cash from operations compared with $365 million in the year-ago period. For the same period, the company’s non-GAAP free cash flow totaled $194 million compared with $192 million in the prior-year period.

As of Jun 30, 2019, the wireless telecommunications service provider had $528 million in cash and equivalents with $1,596 million of net long-term debt.

2019 Guidance

U.S. Cellular provided estimates for full-year 2019. The company has lowered its revenue outlook only and currently expects total operating revenues in the band of $3,900-$4,100 million (down from prior estimated range of $4,000-$4,200 million) due to lower revenues from equipment sales.

Adjusted EBITDA is projected in the range of $900-$1,050 million. The company anticipates adjusted OIBDA in the range of $725-$875 million. Capital expenditures are expected to be between $625 million and $725 million.

Going Forward

U.S. Cellular continues to strengthen its customer base while improving churn management. It is progressing with its 5G and network modernization initiatives. The company intends to offer the best wireless experience to customers by providing superior quality network and national coverage.

Further, the company acquired new licenses at millimeter wave auctions, giving it access to high frequency spectrum required to deliver high speed and low latency capabilities of 5G to customers. Markedly, the millimeter wave provides at least 300 MHz of spectrum in markets that serve 97% of its customer base. U.S. Cellular expects to begin commercial launch of 5G services in 2020.

How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?

In the past month, investors have witnessed an upward trend in estimates review. The consensus estimate has shifted 20% due to these changes.

VGM Scores

At this time, U.S. Cellular has an average Growth Score of C, a grade with the same score on the momentum front. However, the stock was allocated a grade of A on the value side, putting it in the top 20% for this investment strategy.

Overall, the stock has an aggregate VGM Score of B. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.

Outlook

Estimates have been trending upward for the stock, and the magnitude of this revision looks promising. Notably, U.S. Cellular has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). We expect an in-line return from the stock in the next few months.



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