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Why Did Frontier Communications Corp. Stock Drop 85% in 2017?

Daniel B. Kline, The Motley Fool

Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: FTR) had a year to forget. In fact, you can argue that the company has had a miserable year-and-three-quarters as its fortunes have trended downwards since it bought Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) wireline business in California, Texas, and Florida for $10.54 billion in April of 2016.

That deal gave it approximately 3.3 million voice connections, 2.1 million broadband connections, and 1.2 million FiOS video subscribers. Unfortunately, the purchase came at a time when the industry was changing and what seemed like a solid move has turned into an unmitigated disaster.

What happened

Since the Verizon deal closed, Frontier has lost subscribers and posted a net loss in every single quarter. That's bad news that's not likely to change anytime soon (although the most-recent trend shows the loss in both areas stabilizing a bit).

Quarter Net Loss Customers Lost
Q3 2106 $134 million 67,000
Q4 2016 $133 million 158,000
Q1 2017 $129 million 173,000
Q2 2017 $715 million* 162,000
Q3 2017 $92 million 109,000

*There was one-time impairment charge in Q2 2017.

So what

Even though Frontier was able to wring $1 billion in annual savings by getting bigger (with plans for around $400 million more) it's dropping subscriber base has kept it in the red. That forced the company to cut its dividend as of the first quarter of its fiscal 2017. It slashed the quarterly payout from $0.105 per share, where it had been for over two years, to $0.04 per share.

At roughly the same time, the company also conducted a 15-1 reverse split of its stock. That move was made to keep shares above the $1 threshold required to maintain its listing.

Those two moves sent shares in the company plummeting. After opening the year at $45.42 shares lost 85% of their value to an adjusted close of $6.76, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence

A hand points a remote control at a television.

Frontier has lost video and broadband customers. Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

Frontier CEO has been steadfast in his belief that the company is on the right track. He reiterated that position in the Q3 earnings release.

"Our third-quarter results highlight the ongoing stabilization across our business as we focus on executing our strategy," said McCarthy. "During the quarter, we were pleased with the continued improvement in subscriber trends and churn in our California, Texas, and Florida markets, ongoing stabilization in our commercial business, and continued operating efficiencies."

The numbers suggest that's at least a possibility, but cord-cutting trends and consumers wanting cable company -- not phone company -- broadband represent major 2018 hurdles for the company. Going forward McCarthy's company needs to stop the losses and show that it can make enough money to service the massive debt it took on in buying the Verizon properties.

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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.