In a set of interesting reports, Goldman Sachs telecom expert Brett Feldman turns his eye on the American wireless market – and its growing rollover to 5G technology. Feldman notes five reasons why 5G will drive a period of sustained growth for companies with an ‘in.’ While the analyst focuses on tower-leasing REITs, his basic point applies to most companies with a strong connection to the 5G switchover: wireless providers, device makers, chip makers.
A look at three of Feldman’s points outlines what we can expect in the next couple of years, as 5G networks expand across the country. First, he notes the obvious – that 2020 will see an expansion of 5G coverage by the Big 4 mobile providers. Second, Apple will launch a 5G capable iPhone this year, which should help drive adoption of the new technology for the next several years. Third, as more users switch to 5G devices, data usage will increase, driving increased cell site density – it will be a virtuous circle.
Feldman’s final two points touch on what he sees as the bottom line for investors interested in 5G stocks: that cell tower owners and operators are the best stock position to take as the switch begins and expands. For his fourth point, he notes that auctions this year and next will open up the mid-band spectrum, and drive tower new tower leases. And finally, in point five, Feldman sees the deployment of new antennas and consequent increase of mid-band spectrum use, driving the expansion of towers and the increase in tower loading and usage going forward.
The move to 5G has potential to turn wireless markets upside down. The Big 4 have all initiated coverage in the new network, but so far only T-Mobile has launched it nation-wide. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon are initiating 5G coverage on the high-band spectrum in limited, dense, urban markets. And a group of REITs that specialize in tower properties are positioned to gain, no matter how the chips fall out for the wireless providers.
In this article, we’ll look at three Goldman Sachs 5G stock recommendations. All three score high on TipRanks’ Smart Score system – rating a 9 or 10. The Smart Score brings together collects and collates data on more than 6,500 stocks, information drawn from across the TipRanks database, and distills it down to a single number. A 9 or 10 rating indicates that the stock is likely to outperform the broader markets in the coming months.
First up is SBA Communications, a real estate investment trust. REITs are companies that buy, own, and operate various residential and commercial properties, making their profits on through rents and management fees. Cell tower properties are a common commercial investment for REITs, and as pointed out above, this combination is Brett Feldman’s favorite 5G investment. SBA is exactly that type of REIT; it owns and operates wireless infrastructure, including small cells, distributed antenna systems, and traditional cell sites.
The popularity of wireless systems, the necessity of the tech infrastructure to modern life, and the switch to 5G have all put SBA on an upward trajectory. The shares gained 50% in 2019. The company has consistently beaten the expectations in the quarterly earnings reports.
The numbers show that, as far as they can. In Q3 2019, the most recent reported, SBAC showed funds from operations (FFO – the REIT equivalent to earnings per share) of $2.15, opposed to the expected $2.08 and up 12% from the year-ago value. Revenues were equally strong. At $507.55 million, revenues were 2% higher than forecast, and up 8.6% year-over-year.
This strong stock performance got Feldman’s full attention. He upgraded SBAC to a Buy rating, writing, “We expect acceleration in domestic organic leasing growth as carriers expand their 5G coverage and begin to overlay mid-band spectrum, and as SBAC sees a material decline in M&A driven churn. We estimate that over the next five years, SBAC can repurchase $7.1bn of stock and return $1.3bn in dividends to shareholders, while maintaining leverage at 7.0x net debt/EBITDA.”
Feldman put a $280 price target on SBAC, indicating room for 12% growth in the next 12 months.
SBA gets a Moderate Buy rating from the analyst consensus, based on 2 Buys and 1 Hold. The relatively small number of reviews reflects the ‘under the radar’ profile of most REITs in the markets; these stocks, while frequently strong on fundamentals, tend to get passed over in favor of bigger, flashier companies. Shares in SBAC sell for $248, and the $261.33 average price target suggests a modest 5% upside potential.
The second stock on our list takes the tower-oriented REIT model a step up in size. American Tower is another owner/operator of wireless infrastructure – but this company has a $103 billion market cap and a global investment footprint. AMT owns over 170,000 telecom infrastructure sites. The company’s portfolio includes over 75,000 sites in Asia, 40,000 in the US, and 37,000 in Latin America. Another 16,000 sites in Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East round out AMT’s holdings.
The full-year 2019 numbers are not available yet, but the value of the tower-oriented REIT is shown by AMT’s $7.44 billion in 2018 revenues. The most recent quarterly on record is from Q3, and shows a $2 FFO, 2% over expectation, and revenues of $1.95 billion, a 5% forecast beat. Both FFO and revenues were up significantly year-over-year. In reaction, AMT showed a 49% share appreciation last year.
Feldman writes of AMT, “We believe that AMT should trade at a signiﬁcant premium to the median of high-quality REITs… We have also increased the terminal growth rate … to reﬂect our view that the 5G cycle is likely to support leasing activity well beyond our 5-year forecasting period.”
In line with his upbeat outlook on the company, Feldman gave AMT shares his second upgrade – to a Buy rating. His $270 price target implies an upside potential of 15%.
Like SBAC, American Tower has a Moderate Buy rating from the analyst consensus. This is based on 6 reviews, including 4 Buys and 2 Holds. The $243.83 average price target suggests an upside of 4% from the $233 current trading price.
With Verizon, the third stock on our list, we shift gears from wireless infrastructure to a major wireless provider. Verizon is the second largest US wireless services company, by subscriber count, with over 118 million customers as of September 2019. The company’s $130 billion in 2018 revenue shows the both the size and income potential of the mobile market in the US.
Verizon hasn’t seen the magnitude of gains that the tower REITs have, but the growth in wireless has given a boost to the company’s top and bottom lines. Revenues in Q3 last year were $32.9 billion, a half percent above the forecast, and the $1.25 EPS was 1% above the estimates. In a key metric – net retail additions – the 601,000 reported was up more than double year-over-year.
Solid quarterly results and a firm position in a growth market attracted Feldman to Verizon. In his comments on Verizon, he writes, “How much could 5G boost postpaid ARPU/ARPA? Our analysis of Verizon’s unlimited pricing implies that its consumer accounts with unlimited plans generate monthly ARPA (average revenue per account) that is 11-48% higher than its reported consumer ARPA of $113.39 in 3Q19… [We see] signiﬁcant revenue growth opportunity for Verizon if the 5G upgrade cycle does indeed stimulate more customers to upgrade to unlimited plans, or to migrate to higher unlimited tiers.”
Feldman reiterates his Buy rating on this stock, and raised his price target by 3% to $67. His new price target implies an upside for the stock of 7.6% in the coming 12 months.
Like the two stocks above, Verizon holds a Moderate Buy consensus rating. In the case of VZ, this rating is based on 4 Buy and 6 Holds given in the past 3 months. Shares are selling for $59.04, and the average price target of $63.56 suggests an upside of ~8%.
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