Among the most disappointing names in the markets today is Sprint Corp (NYSE:S). To be blunt, Sprint stock has been more than disappointing; over the trailing year, S shares have lost more than 41%.
Given the weaknesses in the broader benchmarks, shareholders might experience even more pain. But with so much negativity, is there a chance that somehow, someway, the Sprint selloff is overdone?
Personally, I would like to think so. In the past, I’ve spoken positively about Sprint stock as a speculative opportunity. Unfortunately, I have to face reality: S shares have not gone the way I had hoped. Even on a year-to-date basis, company equity is down nearly 11%. Baseball season hasn’t already started and yet Sprint has found a way to strike out.
Moreover, if you happen to be a believer, you honestly have to ignore the news cycle. For instance, we at InvestorPlace give Sprint stock a “D” grade. Within the sub-categories, the best grade that S tallied was a lone “B” for “earnings momentum.” Of course, earnings momentum can be massaged, if you will.
As our own Dana Blankenhorn explained, the embattled mobile provider scored big on paper for its third quarter earnings report. Sprint managed to hit an earnings per share of $1.79, well exceeding analysts’ consensus of a 4 cent loss. However, the favorable Trump tax cut was responsible for most of the earnings beat.
Unless you’re expecting the President to cut taxes every year, this is not what you would call sterling results.
Blankenhorn, for the record, is bearish on Sprint stock, and his opinion aligns with seemingly all of my colleagues’ assessments. If I’m correct, the last time an InvestorPlace contributor wrote anything remotely positive about Sprint was Vince Martin — last October!
Is Sprint Stock So Bad It’s Good?By any conventional perspective, yes, it is. For instance, consider that out of 30 covering analysts, only two are bullish. The majority (18 analysts) have a “hold” recommendation, while the others are either “underperform” or “sell”.
More problematic is that the analysts have a recurring theme, which can be summarized as debt, debt, debt. With nearly $33 billion of debt on the balance sheet, and an unsatisfactory sales growth rate, it’s anyone’s guess how Sprint will pay this off. In addition, my colleague Lawrence Meyers recently pointed out that Sprint’s promotions are sad, confusing and unsustainable.
I’m not about to disagree with him, or any other bearish analysts. Sprint is definitely in a bind, especially when compared to its rivals AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), and T-Mobile US Inc (NASDAQ:TMUS). However, I can’t help but think that if S shares were such a bad deal, how come it’s still around?
I don’t generally consider myself a contrarian investor, as, many times, you shouldn’t argue with the majority consensus. But when the consensus is this overwhelmingly opinionated, my “spidey senses” go off.
For instance, I don’t want to dismiss the fact that powerhouse Softbank Corp. (Japan) (OTCMKTS:SFTBY) owns S. That has enabled Sprint to aggressively promote itself. I’m sure you’ve seen that even the “Can You Hear Me Now” guy has switched over.
Yes, it’s a cute marketing ploy, but it’s also shown some real benefits. For instance, a growing number of Sprint’s wireless subscribers are postpaid customers, indirectly indicating a more affluent user base.
And why not? As much as I love its stock, AT&T, as a service provider, is over-hyped and over-priced. Plus, the customer service is horrible. Sprint treats me well, which is why I’m with the company.
An Imperfectly Perfect Contrarian Play
Two other factors to consider are spectrum and the technicals. Our Will Healy recently noted in January that “Sprint owns spectrum in the highly-valued 2.5 GHz band,” which it acquired from the now-defunct Clearwire Corp in 2013. Furthermore, he adds that the spectrum value is between $40 billion and $115 billion. S only paid $3.5 billion.
That said, Healy is bearish on Sprint stock due to overwhelming negatives, like debt. Moreover, management would have to rebrand itself as a spectrum-holding company to make best use of its golden asset. Still, it is an asset, and a substantially powerful one that bears shouldn’t entirely dismiss.
Finally, on the charts, I think it’s very significant that S stock has stabilized over the trailing month. As I mentioned earlier, with all the bad news circulating, you’d expect shares to be exterminated. Instead, it appears that the worst is over. Possibly, the markets are curious how management will respond.
I recognize the difficult road that lies ahead. Ultimately, I consider Sprint stock an imperfectly perfect contrarian play. It has a bit too many negatives for it to be a truly perfect contrarian investment; nevertheless, the ingredients of a surprise hit — intense, prevalent negativity and overlooked positives — are at work here.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.