NTELOS Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ:NTLS)
Q2 2014 Results Earnings Conference Call
July 28, 2014 08:00 AM ET
Jeffrey Goldberger - KCSA Strategic Communications
Michael Huber - Chairman
Steb Chandor - Chief Financial Officer
Batya Levi - UBS
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Phil Cusick - JPMorgan
Good morning and welcome to the NTELOS Second Quarter 2014 Earnings Conference Call and Webcast. All participants will be in a listen only mode. (Operator Instructions). Please note this event is being recorded. I will now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Jeffrey Goldberger. Please go head.
Thank you, Emily. Good morning, and welcome to the NTELOS second quarter 2014 earnings conference call. Again, my name is Jeffrey Goldberger, and I'm with KCSA Strategic Communications, Investor Relations Counsel to NTELOS. We hope that you had an opportunity to review the earnings release we issued earlier today. We also hope that you downloaded the accompanying earnings presentation, which can be accessed on the company's website within the Investor Relations section.
Turning to slide two. As a reminder, some of the matters we will discuss on this call are forward-looking, including full year guidance. You should keep in mind that these forward-looking statements are subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements and that such statements are not a guarantee of our future performance. Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, general economic conditions and those factors set forth in today's earnings release and discussed under the Risk Factors sections of our Annual Report on Form 10-K and quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and other SEC filings.
During our call today, we will reference certain non-GAAP financial measures, which we believe provide useful information for investors. We include reconciliation of those measures, were appropriate, to GAAP in our earnings release or on our Investor Relations section of our website at ir.ntelos.com. As always, NTELOS assumes no obligation to update the information presented on this conference call.
Turning to slide three, representing NTELOS today are Michael Huber, Chairman of the Board of Directors; and Steb Chandor, Chief Financial Officer.
Let me quickly outline today's agenda for the call. Michael will begin with the review of the recent management transition as well as a quick overview of our results. Steb will then take you through the financial details for the quarter, including updated guidance for the calendar year 2014 and provide an operational update. Michael will return with some closing remarks and then we’ll open the call to question.
With those comments complete, allow me to turn the call over to Michael. Michael, the floor is yours.
Great. Thanks Jeffery and thanks to all of you for joining us on today’s call and for your flexibility. For those who have the deck, I’m going to be starting with slide. This morning NTELOS announced that Jim Hyde has resigned as President, CEO and as a member of our Board of Directors. As many of you know, under Jim’s leadership, NTELOS successfully orchestrated the spin-off of Lumos Networks in 2011, which positioned our company as a leading regional pure play wireless carrier. Also during Jim’s tenure, we lunched the iPhone which helped reinvigorate the retail business and helped NTELOS post 10 straight quarters of positive net adds and what has become an increasingly competitive retail environment.
In the wholesale business, during his tenure, NTELOS broadened and extended our relationship with our largest customer, Sprint which allowed us to continue to operate the wholesale business with strength going forward.
On behalf of my fellow Board members, we would like to thank Jim for his service. We wish him well in the future endeavors.
To ensure continued operating strength during this management transition, Rod Dir, a member of our Board since 2011 has been appointed President and Chief Operating Officer. Rod has extensive wireless industry experience including serving as a Chief Operating Officer of another public regional telecommunications company Cincinnati Bell from 2005 to 2007. Rod will be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of our business. Rod’s familiarity with the company and strong wireless background makes him extremely well suited for this task. During the transition period and in support of the senior management team, I'll also be providing incremental oversight of our overall strategy in corporate development as well as our relationships with investors and key partners. I’ve been on the board of NTELOS since 2005 when my firm Quadrangle Capital Partners, a private equity firm focused on the telecom and media space, first invested in the company.
In connection with Jim’s departure and consistent with our transition plan, the Board want to take a thorough search for a new CEO. We expect this sort of search to take about six months as is typically the case. It's also important to highlight and recognize our senior operating team, which is comprised of seasoned wireless industry professionals.
These individuals will continue to play a leading role in executing our retail and wholesale strategy and in driving shareholder value. Our operating goals have not changed and it’s business as usual as we stay focused on meeting our key operating initiatives in the coming months.
Our senior management team has the full support of the Board of Directors and Rod and I look forward to working more closely with each of them. The transition announced today is a bi-product of the evolution of the wireless industry generally and NTELOS specifically.
Turning to page five. NTELOS has reached the beginning of its next phase of development. When I first joined the Board of NTELOS in 2005, they just launched CDMA 1X voice technology. It had less than 850 cell sites and text messaging was the hot new product. In the following five years, under the leadership of Jim Quarforth. NTELOS completed the bulk of its 3G build; we added hundreds of towers to our network and we became a public company.
Over that same period, NTELOS's relationship with Sprint developed from modest contributors to the business to a key strategic driver of company performance. The most recent five years under Jim Hyde have been no less active. NTELOS built up and then spun-off its wireline division into the publicly traded company Lumos Networks. We launched the iPhone in 2011 which we invigorated our retail business and critically we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to further expand our network, support faster data speeds and enable the dramatic penetration of smartphones into our base.
Finally, we recently extended and expanded our relationship with Sprint. It’s hard to underestimate the value of this relationship to us and provides us with spectrum to launch 4G across our western footprint using Sprint spectrum which will better propagate and allow broader coverage, better in-building penetration and faster speeds. It provides us with a nationwide roaming agreement, it provides us with access to Sprint’s key vendor relationships and many of these benefits will help us not only in our strategic network territory that we share with Sprint but also in Eastern Virginia where we do not provide wholesale services to Sprint. And most importantly the renewed deal provides a platform for us to continue to work and build our relationship with Sprint who has been such a terrific partner for us.
As we sit on the cost of our next phase of development, we have a number of opportunities and four key strategic objectives to increase the satisfaction of our customers and ultimately to drive shareholder value. First as I alluded to earlier, we want to strengthen our strategic relationship with Sprint and leverage our investment in that relationship to further benefit NTELOS. Secondly, we want to strengthen our retail sales performance. We will have more to say about that later in the call. Thirdly, we want to improve our processes and become more efficient. And finally, we want the increase a strategic relevance of our assets and capitalize on their strengths.
These priorities are consistent with and build also the goal we have outlined in the past. However, the wireless industry has evolved tremendously over the past several years, creating new challenges. Scale is more important than ever as evidenced by the continued wave of mergers and acquisitions in this sector. Technological change is increasing and consumers are demanding new levels of customer service and flexibility. As we enter this next phase, we need to ensure that NTELOS is positioned to participate effectively. For a long-term agreement now on price with Sprint, it's in natural time to ensure we have the leadership with the right perspective and mix of experiences to take us forward.
Ultimately, the Board is looking for a candidate with strong leadership and execution skills, who has the vision for leveraging the company's assets to further enhance shareholder value at NTELOS. In the meantime, the Board is extremely comfortable with the leadership of Rod along with the existing executive team in NTELOS to move us forward. Under Rod's leadership, we will not be in holding pattern, rather we will be accelerating our pace of change, reinvigorating ongoing initiatives and focusing excessively on providing a kind of high-quality service that our customers expect and deserve. As I mentioned earlier, we expect these changes to be for another five years of growth and innovation.
Turning to page six, let me just provide a couple of highlights of the quarter and then Steb will provide some details. As we announced on May 22, we successfully amended and extended the renewal with Sprint, Steb can go into this in much more detail, I have already provided some comments, so I'm not going to say anymore about the Sprint agreement and Steb will pick that up.
On from the second quarter, our first postpaid subscriber activity remain strong, but our prepaid performance continued to reflect a heavy promotional efforts of our competitors. Not surprisingly, the overall wireless environment remains incredibly competitive and that competition only intensified during the quarter.
Against this backdrop, we expanded the roll out of 4G LTE in our footprint, but we believe it's crucial to improve in our value proposition. We'll provide a more detailed discussion of industry’s dynamics and an update on our network expansion later in the call.
Now I'd like to turn the call over to Steb, who will provide an operational update, review our financial results and then comment on our 2014 full year guidance. I'll come back at the end to provide some closing remarks before we take questions.
Thank you Michael and good morning everyone. During today's call, I will reference the financial results as we reported in our earnings release filed earlier this morning and in our Form 10-Q which we expect to file on the next day or so. Please refer to those filing for additional information.
On slide seven, we've outlined the beneficial impact of the extended SNA agreement with Sprint which Michael just touched on. To quickly hit it, some of the key points I would again mention the extended SNA agreement solidifies our relationship with our largest customers through 2022. It positions NTELOS to develop the most robust LTE experience in the SNA territory and provide a solid foundation from which we will look to grow our overall business.
So turning now to our retail business on slide eight. Competition in wireless space showed on signs of letting up during the quarter. NTELOS continue to introduce new devices, offer new promotions and rollout new rate plans to decrease churn and add new customers. Cutting through the clutter however we saw aggressive price reductions being offered and matched by the largest carriers.
Despite of these challenges, our retail business held its own. Postpaid in fact continued its momentum and the second quarter marked a ninth consecutive quarter of positive postpaid net adds. That being said, we see real important improvements and are taking the necessary actions to drive retail growth. So its equipment installment plans were first introduced a little over a year ago customers have rapidly embraced them.
We believe that not having an EIP in place put it at a competitive disadvantage for the first half of the year. To overcome this challenge, we expect to launch nPower 2.0 in August. This will include an EIP program as well as a rate we set both of which we believe will have a positive impact on our postpaid business. Our EIP will be structured similar to what our competition currently offers, allowing customers to purchase devices with no money down and pay for the devices overtime with the option to do upgrade after 12 months of payment.
We will also continue to offer our customers the flexibility of choose the more traditional subsidized device plan and the option to select yearly upgrade option but without having the sign up for a new IP. When combined with our in-control rate plans we look to drive incremental postpaid share gains.
Turning to prepaid, over the past several quarters we’ve pointed out the content promotional nature of prepaid wireless. Our view is that consumers have become a custom to these promotions and those promotions are here to stay. In addition, we’ve seen two new competitors entered our market during the second quarter. Cricket and MetroPCS have recently begun selling their products particularly in our Eastern markets. To remain competitive we recently launched a $45 promotional offering which should allow us to regain some near-term momentum as we transition to a number of new service offerings later this summer. These new plans will ensure that customers have a variety of option at a number of different price points and we expect a positive impact to prepaid sales in customer churn as a result.
Changing gears, we continue to make good progress on our 4G LTE network upgrade. The majority of our work in the second quarter was focused in our Eastern markets as we work with Sprint to finalize our build plans throughout the SNA territory to the West. Since the end of last year we have expanded our LTE coverage to include the metropolitan markets of Richmond and Norfolk and now cover approximately 2.8 million pass with 4G LTE service.
With our renewed Sprint agreement we have modified our build plans in the SNA territory to better leverage our capital. Our upgraded network will support Sprint’s Tri-Band solution where we constructed as overlay to the majority of our existing networks as opposed to a full rip and replace. This strategy should allow us to avoid decommission existing assets and minimize the potential service impact on subscribers in the SNA territory. We tend to have approximately 55% of our existing 6 million cover POP footprint serve with LTE by the year-end '14.
As a reminder, although our agreement with Sprint allows for our build in the SNA territory to be completed as late of May 2017, we are continuing to work to accelerate the build out into the coming two plus years. We'll provide additional details around the build out and expected milestone as we move into the fall.
Lastly, we also continue to make good progress on our pilot program with DISH. On July 16th, we announced that began offer in high-speed wireless Internet service to select customers in Charlesville, Winnsboro, Stanton, Harrisonburg and Roanoke, Virginia. The service provides download speeds of over 10 mgs and costs 29.99 a month when bundled with a qualified DISH satellite TV service plan. So far feedback has been positive, but it's important to understand that this Phase 2 trial is in its very early stages.
Turning now to the financial results on slide nine. For the second quarter, operating revenues were 117.8 million, a 2% decrease compared to the same period last year. This reflects a small increase in retail revenue, offset by a drop in reported wholesale and other revenue.
Turning to slide 10. Retail revenues for the quarter which includes both subscriber and equipment revenue was 79.5 million, a 1% increase compared to the same period last year. Second quarter subscriber revenue remained flat as compared to the prior year quarter. Sequentially from Q1 '14 to Q2 '14 subscriber revenue decreased approximately 1% as competitive pressures slowed the growth of postpaid ARPA and kept prepaid subscriber growth below our expectations.
Slide 11. For the second quarter wholesale and other revenue was 38.3 million, primarily reflecting revenue from our SNA agreement with Sprint. SNA revenue for the quarter was 36.8 million a decrease of approximately 7% from the same period last year. The SNA revenue as reflected in our financial statements was reduced from actual amounts build by approximately 1.2 million on a net basis to reflect certain GAAP adjustments required based on the terms of our amended agreement including the straight line adjustment we outlined on our last conference call.
The details of these adjustments are summarized on the key metric schedule attached to our press release. When viewed from build and cash collecting basis SNA service billing declined approximately 4% from the same period last year. This decline in build SNA revenue which was expected was a result of new billing rates that went into effect on May 1st in connection with the renewed SNA agreement.
With respect to subscriber activity on slide 12 NTELOS ended the second quarter with approximately 458,100 total subscribers of which approximately two third were postpaid subscribers this translates to roughly a 1% year-over-year growth in total subscribers.
As part of commitment, to optimize our business and managed expenses on an ongoing basis we took proactive steps during the quarter to further evaluate our customer base. We identified a group of customers that consistently exceeded permitted usage levels or that were dormant on actual usage and took steps to rightsize our subscriber base to improve the efficiency and the profitability of our business.
As a result of these efforts we reduced our subscriber base by 2,100 postpaid and 8,200 prepaid customers. The reductions as noted in the key metrics page attached to the press release are reflected in the June 30, 2014 any subscriber numbers, but are not included in our churn or net add calculations or discussions this morning.
On slide 13, net subscriber additions for the quarter were 400, comprised of net adds of 3,300 postpaid subscribers against a reduction of 2,900 prepaid subscribers. This marks the 10th consecutive quarter of positive overall net additions.
Turning to slide 14. For the quarter ARPA was $137.20, up roughly $3.86 or 3% from the second quarter of '13. Postpaid subscribers per account were 2.2, up from 2.1 in the second quarter of 2013. ARPA decreased modestly, as compared to the first quarter of '14, primarily reflecting adjustments in our rate plans in front of our upcoming EIP launch and a shift to more single-line plans being solid during the quarter.
Operating expenses, as shown on slide 15. For the second quarter, increased 12% year-over-year to $107.9 million. The increase was 7% when excluding the 2013 gain on the sale of an intangible asset. The primary drivers of this 7% year-over-year increase were higher retention costs associated with device upgrades and higher network costs associated with our 4G LTE network upgrade.
During the quarter, however we continue with a number of initiatives to slow the growth in our operating expenses in addition to the steps I mentioned around both postpaid and prepaid subscribers we are taking costs out of our customer care, retention and network line items primarily around refocused improve the processes. These actions contributed almost $2 million in reduced expenses during the quarter and should continue to provide incremental savings for the balance of '14.
Turning to slide 16. As a result of the previously discussed items adjusted EBITDA for second quarter came in at 34.4 million or 29% of operating revenues which compared to 41.2 million for the same period of last year and was flat when compared fourth quarter of '14.
Capital expenditures on slide 17 were approximately 29.9 million for the second quarter and 43.8 million for the first six months of the year. The bulk of the capital spending was tied to our LTE network upgrade and the addition of associated network capacity.
On slide 18 our cash position at June 30th was approximately 108.3 million and our gross and net debt leverage ratios at the end of the second quarter were approximately 3.8 and 3.0 respectively.
Slide 19; as it relates to the guidance for the 2014 year we reiterate our expectations for full year adjusted EBITDA of between 128 million and 135 million. For the full year 2014 we still expect capital expenditures of between 110 million and 120 million of which approximately 70 million will relate to our 4G network upgrade. We expect to update our full year 2015 outlook early next year consistent with our past practice. With that I'll turn the call back over to Michael.
Great. Thanks Steb. So just wrapping up we appreciate your patience as we (inaudible) on this. To summarize it's really an exciting time to be in wireless that's an understatement. And it's a very exciting time in our company's history. The dynamics of the wireless industry continue to evolve so will NTELOS. We're excited about the opportunity that 4G presents in both our wholesale and retail business.
As always we will focus on running our business more efficiently and serving our customers as best as we can. Reasonably we can do more to enhance the strategic value of our assets and we look forward to focusing on that initiative.
And then finally, Rod, Steb and I along with the entire NTELOS management team look forward to working closely with the employees and all of our colleagues here to driving continued success and performance both for our customers and our shareholders.
With that again thank you and we’ll open it up to questions operator.
Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions). Our first question is from Batya Levi of UBS. Please go ahead.
Batya Levi - UBS
Great, thank you. Could you please talk a little bit more about Jim Hyde’s departure? Was this in the works for a while or did it come with the surprise to you? And I think you had set guidance for the full year and provided and initial outlook for that EBITDA would be flat in ‘15 and grow in ‘16, how comfortable that this is a good ranged, good outlook to that [so called]? And can you talk about what this assumes for the wholesale business? And then I have a follow-up. Thank you.
Sure. Let me -- it is Mike. Let me touch on the transition, Steb can touch on the other points. I think we have pretty much described the situation and the company as we do in and over the year we reflect on strategy going forward we will evaluate the next stage of the company. Jim is evaluating what he want to do with the next stage with his career. He made a decision to offer his resignation and the Board accepted it. And I don’t think there is a whole lot more to discuss.
Batya, as it relates to the guidance again as we look at 2014, with our pending launch of the EIP program, which obviously can bring a lot of changes to the EBITDA number over the next six months depending on take rate and certain assumptions. And together with the second quarter performance that was basically in line with we what would previously talk about, we felt it was best to lead the guidance for 2014, where it was as far as the Sprint revenue again the reported revenue reflects two out of three months under the new rate structure and we would expect to see those numbers similarly going forward.
As a relates to '15, again we provided a brief outlook on our last conference call, but at this point, we'll re-hurry back to sort of normal business practice and will be touching on the '15 guidance or early next year.
Batya Levi - UBS
Okay, thanks. And just follow-up was actually on EIP front. In terms of the price resets that you talked about should we expect them to be somewhere to be $15, $20 discounts that we see at the nationals and what’s your sort of initial estimates further uptake, would it be something like 30%, 50% that we're seeing on some of the peers or much lower around 15%, 20% and I think this is difficult to tell at this point, but assuming your take rate, do you think the net impact on overall EBITDA trends would be positive because of accounting or do you expect this service discount to just make it rather offset most of that’s boost? Thank you.
Okay, yes, thanks Batya. I think our plan as we envision it and obviously we won’t give all the details at this point, because we haven’t launched it, but it would be a zero dollar down program with the 24-month payment stream. And at the end of 12 months EBIT upgrade, provided that you turning a working phone. And at that point the balance of the receivable would wiped off. It will be available to new customers that are otherwise eligible for upgrades. As it relates to the take rate I think at this point we do expect the take rate to be consistent with some of the other players in the business that we're a little early in that game. Again we look to launch it sometime later this month or excuse me in August. As far as the impact we do think it will be accretive to the EBITDA. We haven’t disclosed our service plan discounts but we don’t think we’ll on the far end of the ranges that some of the other carriers have talked about and actually done.
Batya Levi - UBS
Okay, thank you.
Our next question is from Rick Prentiss of Raymond James. Please go ahead.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Thanks, good morning.
Good morning, Rick.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Can you hear me alright?
Sure, I hear you fine, go ahead.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Okay first for you Michael you mentioned how you are going to be taking on the strategic relationships and also working on the strategic relevance of the NTELOS assets, can you guess a little out there what you think your top priorities in those two areas are going to be?
We’ll look from a strategic relationship standpoint, as you can imagine it will be Sprint, the company has I think they have tremendous depth of our relationship with Sprint. There are a lot of points of contact across the organization and there is nothing there that we are looking to change in terms of a course correction, but I think we very much feel like for obvious reasons that it is a critical relationship and we have a quadrangle relationships with SoftBank as well. And I think you can expect me to be spending quite a bit of time making sure to the best that we can we are in sync with what Sprint is looking to do in the industry and being helpful in any way that we can be.
Beyond that strategic relationships and partnerships otherwise, we have got an interesting set of assets both geographically and operationally. We have a good management team and as you know there is just a tremendous amount dialog going on in the industry right now about how the rural parts of the country is going to be covered, what's the right combination of companies obviously Sprint and T Mobile speculation, which I feel anyone add to, because the last thing we need is speculation from someone else on that deal.
But, there is a lot happening. And we need to make sure that we're right in the middle of it and that's going to be a key priority for me.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Okay. And then Steb on the changing policy in the postpaid and the prepaid, when in the quarter did that take place, just trying to think through what the effective as we look into third quarter and beyond?
A lot of that happened at the end of the year. So, I mean put it this way, we continue to look at efficiencies in our business and on the prepaid side, we identified some non-revenue generating customers that hadn’t been active in a little while. So basically, by removing these subscribers from our account at the end of the year, we are able to eliminate some respective costs of those accounts both internal and third-party costs for example billing cost.
So, these were non revenues, so that won't be change anything on that front. At the same time in postpaid, we identified customers that have violated the fair use policy, primarily from incurring excessive roaming charges. So these were fairly significant and a bulk of this happened towards the end of the second quarter. So, I think at that point, the savings that we referred to is about $2 million of off all our programs, a small amount of that was related to the excess roaming and that should basically provide a much bigger bump in the second half of the year from a savings perspective.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Okay. And then you mentioned end of the year, which means end of the quarter for some of the prepaid changes or?
I'm sorry, absolutely end of the second quarter.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Okay. And then you alluded a little bit about the desire to maybe accelerate the SNA area coverage. It’s currently as late as 2017, do you like to get it done in two plus years? Can you give us a little signal about what you might be thinking there? Obviously cash is a critical component to that as well.
Yes, I mean as we mentioned in our prepared comments, we’ve modified the overall LTE build plan and we’re not quite ready to share those plans and milestones yet but we’re clearly in the field. The incremental dollars that are tied to the SNA field which we had previously commented on were still in the range of $150 million to $175 million. But there are a lot of things that go into this plan including getting all the right contractors, all the power requirements, everything that’s needed to be done and that's the heavy work for Bobby McAvoy and his team right now. So suffice it to say that we are moving as aggressively as we can to get it built as soon as we can throughout the entire territory to improve the experience of both our customers and in the SNA territory Sprint’s customers.
This is Michael, this is with respect to your first question; there is a lot of as aspects to the Sprint build. And I think what we're trying to convey is we think 4G is a tremendous positive for the company. We're focused on making it happen sooner than not on -- rather than dragging our feet. We would like to see this happen. We're going to work with Sprint to make sure that we're doing it in a way that they think makes sense and that makes sense for us, recognizing as you said, we have some constraints in our balance sheet.
But this is something we want to have to happen; there is no one -- we're not being dragged kicking and screaming and doing it. So, we’re very focused on doing it as quickly and constructively as we can.
Rick Prentiss - Raymond James
Makes sense, thanks Michael.
(Operator Instructions). And our next question comes from Phil Cusick of JPMorgan. Please go head.
Phil Cusick - JPMorgan
Hey guys, thanks. Could you just talk about what's happening in the non-Sprint roaming, both what's happening with existing revenue and then as you think about going forward signing deals with other companies? Thanks.
At a high level, under the wholesale another, we include revenue from a number of other carriers which include Metro and Cricket and overtime those numbers have been starting to move down based on new ownership. So, what we’re working on and I am assuming you’re referring to the revenue piece is to continue to expand the relationships where we can as Michael pointed out, to the extent that we continue to accelerate our build as we hope to pick up incremental revenue with other carriers. But that’s part of the strategic aspects that Michael was referring to earlier.
Phil Cusick - JPMorgan
Okay. Thanks Steb.
And this concludes our question-and-answer session. I’d like to turn the conference back over to Jeffrey Goldberger for any closing remarks.
Thank you, Emily and thank you everybody for participating on today’s call. As a reminder, a replay of the call and an archive of the audio webcast will be available. Please refer to the company's Investor Relations website for details and feel free to contact us for further questions. That ends today’s call and we appreciate your consideration.
The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.
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