Thoughts on CenturyLink

Dear Mr. Berko: I bought 300 shares of CenturyLink five years ago at $46. It hasn’t gotten that high since. My stockbroker recommends that I buy another 300 shares and reduce my basis to $37.50. Your valued opinion is requested. — HD, Buffalo, N.Y.
Dear HD: You may be asking the wrong person. I didn’t care for CenturyLink (CTL-$28) in June 1988, when $3,000 would have bought 100 shares that paid a niggardly $12 dividend. A 100-share purchase in 1988 has segued into 928 shares today, worth $27,800 — an impressive 8.75 percent compounded annual return, not including dividends. Meanwhile, today’s $2.16-per-share dividend, totaling $1,963, is 163 times more than that $12 dividend.
And I didn’t like CTL when it traded at $20 in late 2008 or when it traded at $47 two years later. And today, at $28, with a 7.4 percent yield and lower revenues and earnings projected for 2016, I still don’t like CTL, which has 556 million shares outstanding. And apparently, neither does T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund, which, between September 2015 and June 2016, unloaded 16 million shares of its 20 million-share position. In fact, it seems that many of CenturyLink’s officers and directors don’t like the company, either. Since September 2010, officers and directors, during 144 insider transactions, have sold over 3 million shares. And during that six-year time frame, there have been only five insider purchases of CTL by directors, totaling 25,000 shares. That suggests an interesting story!
CenturyLink, founded in 1968, has 47,000 employees, had $17.9 billion in 2015 revenues and is the third-largest telecommunications company in the U.S. It provides internet, broadband, voice and wireless services to consumers and businesses, as well as entertainment services under the CenturyLink Prism TV and DirecTV brands. CTL also owns Verizon Wireless assets in Alabama and Missouri and, in 2011, bought the wireless assets of Qwest. CTL does most of the things that Verizon does, but on a much smaller scale.
Revenues in 2012 were a record $18.4 billion, but each year since, they’ve inched lower, to an expected $17.7 billion this year. And record 2012 earnings of $1.48 billion are expected to be lower this year, at $1.4 billion. In 2017, revenues are expected to come in a little lower again, at $17.6 billion, and earnings may also continue to inch lower next year. Wall Street is looking at $1.3 billion, certainly enough to cover the $2.16 dividend. But the lack of revenue and earnings progress is concerning to numerous investors — including T. Rowe Price, which may unload its last block of 3.8 million shares.
On the other hand, analysts at Merrill Lynch, Morningstar, Market Edge, S&P Capital IQ, J.P. Morgan, Raymond James, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Oppenheimer, Barclays, Citigroup and others have positive reports on CenturyLink. It might be foolish of me to pan CTL when a dozen of the Street’s best seem to adore it.
Net profit margins, which crashed from 15 percent in 2010 to 4 percent several years ago, are improving. In the coming few years, those margins could come in at 10 percent. That’s good! And it seems CTL’s revenues will enjoy organic growth as gains in demand for Ethernet-, MPLS- and facilities-based video services have been brisk. That’s good, too! Meanwhile, management’s international expansion of its CenturyLink Cloud is moving ahead, and CTL is positioning itself as a global leader in cloud infrastructure, IT solutions and content-driven services. CTL’s cloud is currently operational in the U.S. plus several European nations and will be introduced shortly in the Asia-Pacific region. That’s also good! Meanwhile, with acquisitions, CTL has been bolstering its security services business. A recently inked deal with WISeKey, an analytical firm, will provide enhanced cybersecurity services for internet of things providers. That’s good, too! And as management builds a better co!
mpany, investors, receiving a 7.4 percent dividend, won’t mind waiting a few years for their capital gains. The $2.16 dividend is well-covered and makes waiting much easier. Still, I don’t care for CTL, and neither does Morgan Stanley.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at mjberko@yahoo.com. To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.