Why Verizon’s Stock Price Jumped When Most of the Market Slumped

On a down day for the stock market, shares of wireless giant Verizon popped 4%, after the company reported third quarter earnings that impressed Wall Street.

While the Standard and Poor’s 500 was down 2% in morning trading on Tuesday, Verizon’s shares were up 4% to as high as $57.16, an almost 20-year high point for the stock. At the same time, shares of rivals Sprint and T-Mobile were down 2% and AT&T was nearly unchanged.

Verizon said its third quarter revenue rose 3% to $32.6 billion and adjusted earnings per share jumped 24% to $1.22, both slightly ahead of the average analyst forecast. The earnings increase was almost entirely due to the big corporate tax cut and an accounting change, Verizon said.

Perhaps more significant for investors, Verizon said its wireless unit’s revenue jumped 7%, including a 1% gain in service revenue, and the company added 295,000 net new phone customers. Wall Street may also have been pleased that Verizon said it would spend less in capital expenditures than previously planned, only $16.6 billion to $17 billion, down from $17 billion to $17.8 billion.

Under new CEO Hans Vestberg, Verizon is focusing on enhancing its wireless network with faster 5G technology, rather than expanding into entertainment or other areas like some of its competitors. On Vestberg’s watch, Tim Armstrong, the head of its digital media and advertising effort, left the company. And Verizon this year shut down its Go90 video service and sold off its stake in video producer AwesomenessTV.

Analysts said Verizon is benefitting from a decline in competition in the wireless market. AT&T (T) is busy paying down debt after acquiring entertainment giant Time Warner, Sprint (S) is somewhat financially squeezed, and T-Mobile (TMUS) may be cutting back on discounting as it tries to convince regulators to approve its proposed merger with Sprint.

“Competitive intensity is now more moderate than at any time since 2014,” Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson Research, wrote. “It’s hard to imagine a better setup. Today’s wireless results are a taste.”

But some sounded a note of caution, as the possible combination of Sprint and T-Mobile plus the growing push into wireless from cable providers Comcast and Charter Communications could greatly increase competitive pressures by next year. “The current lull in wireless competition has benefitted (Verizon), and the company performed well this quarter, but we suspect that the good times won’t last too much longer,” analyst Jonathan Chaplin at New Street Research, wrote. “We continue to believe that (long term) expectations for (Verizon) are too high, despite the positive result this quarter.”

Verizon’s (VZ) positive surprise came even as parts of the company appear to be flailing. The Oath digital media and advertising unit created from the $9 billion acquisitions Yahoo and AOL saw its revenue slip 7% from last year. And Verizon executives admitted that the unit would not reach the company’s previously outlined goal of $10 billion in revenue in 2020.

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