Sprint Undervalued by as Much as 50 Percent? Keep Dreaming…
If Sprint, as Barron’s recently claimed, deserves more respect on Wall Street, it’s not going to find it at Pali Research, which clearly does not see the same 50 percent upside potential in the company’s shares.
In a note to investors this morning, Pali analyst Walter Piecyk says he’s not buying predictions about Sprint (S) returning to growth in 2010. Sure, the company is improving post-paid subscriber losses, says Piecyk, but not as quickly as it needs to. And its prepaid business, which already faces a fair bit of competition, will be confronted with even more competition next year.
“Over the past six months our concerns have been rising over the slow pace of change at Sprint and what we view as lost opportunities for growth, but we maintained our Buy rating due to the low valuation on the stock and the depressed expectations of investors,” Piecyk writes.
“Those concerns increased in recent months as the pre-paid business, which Sprint has been accessing for growth, became more competitive and Verizon began executing on a more open device strategy,” the analyst adds. “In the past few weeks, investors have become more optimistic about positive post-paid signs early in Q4 and Sprint’s prospects of even stronger pre-paid results in 2010, in the face of increasing competition.”
In contrast, Piecyk notes that “We are less confident about those trends and as we model out a more competitive market in 2010 for all our companies it becomes evident to us that Sprint will be challenged to stabilize EBITDA. Faced with negative catalysts in the months ahead and the challenge of appropriately valuing a company whose EBITDA is in perpetual decline, we believe now is the right time to downgrade the stock to Neutral.”
Wall Street, then, isn’t underestimating Sprint’s prospects for 2010. It’s overestimating them–or at least it certainly was yesterday.
“For 2010, we expect post-paid losses to be pared by 35% to 2.3 million subs lost compared to our prior estimate of less than 2 million subs lost in that year,” Piecyk concludes. “While pre-paid net adds might offset the losses or even top post-paid losses in Q4 we expect the total customer base to decline by 700,000 in 2010.”