For a company whose results are going nowhere fast, Sprint Corp (NYSE:S) stock draws a lot of contrasting emotion.
While Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC) see this as a stock on fire, recently repeating an outperform rating on the shares, and FBR Capital has raised its price target to $11, recent commentaries here at InvestorPlace have been shouting, well, fire!
James Brumley calls the situation with the stock “really grim”, saying the turnaround efforts of CEO Marcelo Claure have not moved the needle, Brian Wu says it’s time to take profits as Sprint stock goes through a disruptive infrastructure upgrade.
Claure insists Sprint is “moving in the right direction,” acting “like a big startup” and the stock price has exploded from a June low under $5/share to its present level of $8.61/share.
But is any of the excitement, on either side of the divide, really justified?
Can You Hear Profit Now?
Sprint is due to report earnings for its December quarter on Jan. 24, and analysts are expecting a loss of eight cents per share on revenue of $8.32 billion. The whisper number is even worse, a loss of 10 cents.
That would put it roughly in line with the last quarter, a loss of four cents per share on revenue of $8.25 billion. And the previous quarter, a loss of eight cents per share on revenue of $8.01 billion. Sprint has not made money for years, although it has become cashflow positive under Claure, who has been in charge since 2014.
But while the top-line numbers on Sprint are huge — $32 billion in revenue last year, $34.5 billion the year before — the trend remains down. And the earnings needle has not shifted at all. The optimism seems based on its continuing efforts to cut costs, an improved credit rating and the possibility it might merge with T-Mobile US Inc (NASDAQ:TMUS), which would create a big capital gain and give the resulting company some pricing power.
That’s not a lot of change to justify a 30% gain.
Sprint Stock Bears Have a Case
The bears have a case to make as well, although it may be no better than the bulls’.
Sprint remains among the country’s most hated companies, with the lowest customer satisfaction rating of any major wireless carrier.
Chairman Masayoshi Son, whose Softbank Group Corp (OTCMKTS:SFTBF) owns 83% of the company and recently sold down some $7.9 billion of its stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NASDAQ:BABA) to help maintain Sprint’s liquidity and pay down debt.
Son made a show of claiming Sprint will bring 5,000 jobs to the U.S. under Trump, but that would still leave Sprint employment below the 38,000 level it had when Son took it over in 2014.
Worse, Sprint has been advertising half-price billing for two years now and that was a “teaser” rate. Many customers will see it expire in coming months. Their bills are about to rise. Since these are price-sensitive customers to begin with, many could switch carriers again, leaving some choice words for Sprint as they do so.
That may be why the mean price target on the stock is currently $6.31/share, almost 20% below where it is currently trading. But is Son-san really going to take such losses in the public market?
Bottom Line on Sprint Stock
My own guess is that both bulls and bears are wrong, which could be the worst scenario of all for traders.
Sprint shares are still in a trading range of $5-$10/share, which they have held since Son took his majority stake in 2013. For all the drama surrounding the company, of Son’s global vision, Sprint’s reported death spiral and Son buying a house in Kansas City to keep up to date on the asset, it really has been on a long road to nowhere.
Sprint stock may be at a short-term peak, but its longer-term trough is not far below. The balance between bullish and bearish sentiment may be extreme, but it cancels itself out.
If I had profits in Sprint shares, I would be taking some, but I would neither buy nor sell it short here.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the sci-fi novella Into the Cloud, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in BABA.