With all the excitement about smart phones these days, I bet that telephone companies that mostly provide old-fashioned landline services aren’t on your radar screen. They’re certainly not sexy—unless, like me, you find collecting steady 5% to 9% dividend yields an exciting idea.
I’m referring to phone companies that provide local and long distance landline telephone services mostly to rural areas with low population densities. Most also offer dial-up and broadband Internet services and some also offer TV and wireless phone services.
Major phone companies like AT&T and Verizon view the traditional landline business with disdain because many customers are switching entirely to wireless phones. In fact, on average, the number of landline connections is shrinking by around 10% annually. As a result, many of the big carriers have sold their landline businesses, especially in rural areas, to smaller operators.
Nevertheless, the outlook for these rural carriers is not as bleak as you might think. Despite the shrinking number of landline customers, most are replacing the lost business with revenues from new services such as broadband Internet connections, web hosting, digital TV and corporate communications.
For income-oriented investors, these rural telecoms offer interesting opportunities. Their landline and newer businesses generate large and relatively stable cash flows. But, since, their infrastructure is already in place, they don’t have to spend much of that cash to fund expansion. Consequently, many are paying big dividends. Here’s a rundown on the high-dividend paying rural telecoms that I’ve found.
Alaska Communications Systems Group (ALSK)
Serves 158,000 local and long-distance landline customers, 45,500 broadband Internet customers, and 124,000 wireless customers in Alaska. Despite a solid fundamental outlook, Alaska’s share price has been hit by analyst downgrades in recent weeks pushing its expected dividend yield up to 9.7%.
With its recent acquisition of Qwest, CenturyLink is now the third largest telecom company in the U.S. It offers landline local and long distance, broadband and wireless services to consumers and businesses across the country. CenturyLink inked a deal to offer DIRECTV satellite TV services to subscribers. Expected yield 6.8%.
Consolidated Communications (CNSL)
Serves 240,000 local and long-distance landline customers, 105,000 broadband Internet customers, and 28,000 digital TV subscribers in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas. Expected yield 8.2%.
Frontier Communications (FTR)
Serves 5.9 million local and long-distance landline customers, 1.7 million broadband Internet customers, and 516,000 digital TV subscribers in 27 states. Frontier recently tripled in size by acquiring Verizon’s landline customers in 14 states. Expected yield 8.6%.
Hickory Tech Corporation (HTCO)
Serves 52,000 local and long-distance landline customers, 20,000 broadband Internet customers, and 10,000 digital TV subscribers in Iowa and Minnesota. Expected yield 5.2%.
Warwick Valley Telephone Company (WWVY)
Provides local and long-distance landline services, dial-up and broadband Internet access, and digital TV services to customers in southeastern New York and in northwestern New Jersey. Expected yield 7.1%.
Windstream serves 3.3 million local and long-distance landline customers, 1.3 million broadband Internet customers, and 433,000 digital TV subscribers in 23 states. In April, raised its quarterly dividend by 8%. Expected yield 7.6%.
All of these firms pay quarterly dividends. The expected dividend yields that I’ve listed assume that they will continue paying the last declared dividend for the next four quarters. Of the six phone companies listed, CenturyLink and Windstream, are acquisition oriented, and thus have the strongest growth prospects.
Since there are only a handful of candidates, take some time to learn about them. As always, the more you know about your stocks, the better your results.