by Richard Band | April 21, 2011 4:00 am
The telecommunications industry is currently brimming with opportunities to earn a lofty dividend up front, with ample scope for capital gains down the road.
Here in the United States, mergers have dramatically altered the telecom landscape over the past decade. While there are still something like 1,300 independent telephone companies across America, two giants, AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), easily control more of the market than everyone else combined.
Moreover, because T and VZ operate by far the most extensive wireless networks, the two titans basically represent the future of telecommunications in this country. In the years ahead, the industry’s smaller players, heavily dependent on old-fashioned wireline technology, will be fighting for a shrinking slice of the customer’s dollar. As a result, I consider the smaller telcos too speculative for investors near (or in) retirement.
However there are three foreign telcos that I think are great dividend stocks to buy now.
Beyond our borders, selected foreign telephone companies offer generous yields with greater growth potential. And these well-managed companies should only increase their dividends if the U.S. dollar keeps going down.
Why would you want to own a telco in Norway? For one thing, as a hedge against the ruinous financial policies of the U.S. government.
Thanks to prudent management of the country’s oil revenues, Norway has run a budget surplus every year since 1995. The Norwegian currency (krone), in which Telenor (OTC: TELNY) reports its profits (and pays its dividends), is sounder than both the euro and the dollar.
But there’s more to this story. Telenor has expanded far beyond its Norwegian base with mobile and broadband operations in Sweden, Denmark, central and eastern Europe, and five Asian countries. As a result, little-known Telenor is one of Europe’s fastest-growing telecom businesses. Sales will likely pass $19 billion in 2011.
The current yield is 4.2%, and dividends have nearly quadrupled over the past seven years. This year’s dividend amounts to only about half of TELNY’s estimated 2011 profits, so an increase of 10% or so seems probable when the board declares next year’s payout.
Because the American Depositary Receipts trade thinly, be sure to enter a limit order specifying the maximum price you’re willing to pay. To capture the 2011 dividend, payable in early June, you’ll need to purchase the stock before May 20.
Cellcom Israel (NYSE: CEL), Israel’s largest wireless carrier, just declared its first quarterly dividend for 2011 — the equivalent of 85.7 U.S. cents per share. Annualized, that works out to a super-sweet yield of 11%.
CEL hands over virtually all its profits to shareholders in the form of dividends, so there’s a chance the company may have to trim the payout in future quarters if business hits a speed bump.
On the other hand, this “pay it all out” policy (similar to the approach taken by most U.S. master limited partnerships) imposes rigorous capital allocation discipline on management. Cellcom execs, in short, don’t waste money.
The mantra here is “free cash flow.” In recent years, Telkom Indonesia (NYSE: TLK) poured huge sums into upgrading both its wireless and wireline networks. Now the company has the luxury of throttling back a bit.
Result: Starting in 2011, each sales dollar (rupiah, actually) will generate more profit, along with a surge of cash that can be distributed to shareholders.
I predict, in fact, that Indonesia’s largest telco will boost its dividend more than 30% by 2013 (from a 2010 base). That’s the kind of growth you want in retirement.
The current yield, based on my estimate of 2011 dividends, is 4.8%.
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