5 Big-Name Telecom Dividends: Which Is Best For Your Portfolio?

Includes: FTR, NOK, T, VOD, VZ
by: Stock Croc

High-yield telecom stocks are becoming more common. Their high dividends can be a huge warning that the market sees a rocky road ahead, so today we will analyze five high-paying telecoms and see which ones are a good deal, and which ones are staggering along the cliff edge.

First out is Nokia Corporation (NYSE:NOK), which currently is trading around $5.30 within a 52-week range of $4.82-$11.75. Its current price-to-earnings ratio of around 22.75 isn't shocking but a dividend of $0.48 and yield of 9.2% definitely is. The high yield comes as Nokia's stock has slid down around 50% the last nine months on headlines that its competitors are outperforming and out innovating the company. Earnings per share have declined the last three quarters while cash flow stands at a worrisome -$0.04 per share, endangering its ability to maintain its dividend.

Despite all of the bad news Nokia has made some management changes and even more significantly announced a new strategic alliance with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). It is still too early to tell if these actions can turn around the months of bleeding. In fact the dividend as well as the stock price seem likely to take more hits as we noted last week, before any upturn can be made. Investors who like to bottom fish might like to keep an eye on this stock, but otherwise stay away.

The old warhorse AT&T (NYSE:T) is next and biggest at a market cap of over $178.19 billion. AT&T has been going in the opposite direction of Nokia as its recent price has run up to around $30.10, just topping out at its 52-week high. Its price-to-earnings ratio is a more staid 15.26 while its dividend of $0.48 ends with an extremely attractive 5.9% yield.

But while AT&T is at its price top there are cracks to be sure. It is paying out nearly 88% of its income to fund the dividend. This is while its debt-to-equity ratio is 62.54 off of a bloated $74.23 billion debt. Couple that with a price-to-earnings growth ratio of 4.00 and AT&T's financial structure looks strained. It should not be enough of a problem to endanger the dividend anytime soon, but the share price could very well cycle down. If you own it now and have long-term goals you probably want to hold on to it. Just keep an eagle eye on quarterly reports. If earnings slow or the debt structure worsens it might become time to sell. If you don't own now there are stronger stocks available.

One stock that is in almost a similar situation as AT&T is Verizon (NYSE:VZ), which is now priced at about $38.92. Like AT&T, Verizon is near the top of its 52-week trading range of $32.28-$40.48. Its price-to-earnings ratio stands at a more optimistic 19.40 and the dividend of $2.00 yields an aggressive 6.50% Even its payout ratio of 94% and debt-to-equity ratio of 62.75 are ballpark to AT&T. But where Verizon separates itself is with a robust cash flow of $14.66 billion, giving it an extremely strong platform to afford the higher dividends and maintain growth and investment for future operations. Also its earnings per share has exploded from $0.89 in 2010, to almost $2.50 in 2011. Verizon's stronger financial performance coupled with a still significant quality dividend makes it an attractive target for investors.

Going now from big to small (market cap of $5.07 Billion) we arrive at the eye-popping Frontier Communications (NYSE:FTR), which weighs in with a $0.75 dividend and a breathtaking yield of 14.9%. If it seems too good to be true it probably is. The stock is priced just above $5.00, near the bottom of the 52-week range of $4.79-$9.55. The price-to-earnings ratio is at an uncomfortable 31.65 - fine of course for a growing stock - but Frontier is plummeting. Earnings are declining and institutional ownership has dropped to a miniscule 16.55%. The dividend had been cut once in 2010 from $0.25 but the company is paying an insane 500% for its payout ratio just to keep the current dividend. Unless something is in the works the company will have to slash or even suspend the dividend soon. Only massive risk taking investors need to even consider sniffing around Frontier.

Finally Vodafone Group PLC (NASDAQ:VOD) comes in as the strongest of the bunch. Vodafone's recent price of around $27.81 is in the upper ranges of its 52-week range ($24.31-$29.75). It pays a solid $0.97 dividend with a yield of 3.5%. Best of all Vodafone offers an attractive dividend with an exceptionally strong business model. The dividend has a mind-easing payout ratio of only 54%, a price-to-earnings ratio of only 12.8 on an earnings per share of $2.10. It generates a healthy $18 Billion in operating cash flow and is investing heavily for the future. As an added bonus it even owns a 45% share of Verizon, giving the investor a play on both companies with one holding. So while the dividend is the lowest of this entire group,Vodafone looks to be by far the strongest play for most investors, keeping on the safe part of the road while others scrabble along the cliff's edge.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.