Verizon on Tuesday delivered a first quarter report that failed to meet expectations across the board despite its launch of unlimited data plans midway through the reporting period.
Verizon shares were down more than 2 percent Thursday morning on the news.
The carrier reported consolidated revenue of $29.8 billion; earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of $11.1 billion; and adjusted diluted earnings per share of 95 cents. Those figures were well below Wall Street estimates forecasting $30.4 billion in revenue, $11.3 billion in EBITDA, and EPS of 96 cents. They were also below even lower forecasts from Wells Fargo, which had pegged those numbers at $29.9 billion, $11.2 billion, and 95 cents, respectively.
Capex also came in less than expected, hitting just $3.1 billion total, compared to estimates of $3.5 billion from Wells Fargo. Verizon indicated $1.83 billion of that total was spent on wireless.
“Verizon missed. On almost every metric,” MoffettNathanson analysts observed. “Verizon’s miss comes against a bar of expectations that was already set low, and which had been falling fast over the past few weeks. But the bar still wasn’t close to low enough.”
On the wireless side of the house, Verizon pulled in $20.9 billion in revenue and $9.4 billion in adjusted EBITDA, falling short of the $21.6 billion and $9.8 billion, respectively, predicted by Wall Street. Service revenue was down 6.1 percent year over year to $15.8 billion, marking the ninth consecutive quarter of year over year declines. CFO Matt Ellis attributed this latest drop to Verizon having to swallow the difference from not charging overages anymore. Though Ellis said Verizon is expecting another quarter of pressure on wireless average revenue per account (ARPA), he noted wireless service revenues should improve in the second half of the year.
“New customer accounts added to the unlimited launch on average had higher account access fees,” Ellis observed. “While we absorb overages in the near term, we expect that increase in account access fees will replace overages over time.”
Unlimited wasn’t enough to rescue net adds
Expanding on unlimited, Ellis said the offer was introduced “primarily to protect our high-quality base.” But while unlimited certainly had an impact, Verizon’s net add numbers show its reach didn’t go far enough.
Verizon noted that before the introduction of its unlimited plan, phone net additions were 398,000 in the red. After the rollout of that plan, though, phone net additions rose back into the black to 109,000 for the quarter. But while it managed 49,000 postpaid smartphone net additions, the carrier still suffered losses of 307,000 on retail postpaid net additions overall.
Of those postpaid losses, 289,000 were postpaid phone losses. BTIG’s Walter Piecyk pointed out the figure marked a new loss record, supplanting the previous high of 138,000 the carrier posted in the first quarter of 2015. The carrier also bled postpaid tablet subscribers, losing 255,000 in the quarter. Further, the carrier’s postpaid tablet base slid for the first time ever.
Postpaid churn was up significantly year over year to 1.15 percent, compared to .96 percent in the first quarter 2016. The postpaid upgrade rate was sluggish in the period, dropping to 5.2 percent from 5.8 percent during the same quarter last year.
Though Verizon maintained that it can continue to differentiate through superior service because its “results again demonstrated that customers value a high-quality network experience,” some analysts expressed doubts.
“The obvious questions are, is this as bad as it gets? And, what will Verizon do about it?” MoffettNathanson noted. “There are at least some reasons to believe that the competitive intensity in the market has receded, at least a little … But it would be a mistake to say that the worst has definitively passed.”