It's no shock consumers love smartphones and tablets powered by Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG). Consumer appetite for watching videos, listening to music, and surfing the web on the go is driving millions to toss aside bare bones phones for feature-packed alternatives.
The problem facing wireless carriers isn't finding consumers willing to pay for next-generation devices. Instead, it's figuring out how to deliver an ever-increasing library of high bandwidth content. Carriers are continuously adding capacity to meet the growing demand. And that's good news for cellular tower owner and operator American Tower (AMT).
Consolidation risk has dropped in the wake of AT&T's failed T-Mobile takeover.
Overall, U.S. wireless customers account for a shade over 70% of American Tower's revenue. This concentration worried investors last year when AT&T (NYSE:T) made its failed bid to buy competitor T-Mobile. After all, fewer competitors could've meant less installed equipment on American Tower's real estate.
But, with the deal blocked and the FCC likely unwilling to approve any major consolidation, big carriers will instead provide consistent revenue growth as they fight to slow churn and boost data revenue.
Currently, AT&T, Sprint (S) and Verizon (VZ) account for 19%, 15% and 12% of its sales, respectively. With smartphones in the U.S. expected to climb to 133 million units in 2014 from 90 million units in 2011, and mobile connected devices expected to increase to 157 million from 42 million, major carriers will remain a key driver of American Tower's growth story. And with the threat of consolidation lessened after AT&T and T-Mobile's failed union, tenancy on American's towers is likely to increase from its 2.7 level.
The company's existing towers offer leverage.
Being able to increase tenancy on the company's towers is great for the bottom line. After all, adding equipment to an existing tower is far less costly than building a new one, which means profit-boosting margin growth.
American's contracts typically have built-in price escalators too, which average 3.5%. Those escalators are above the 3% escalators American pays to land lease holders, who make up about 28% of its properties.
Global growth offers big opportunity.
American may need a name change given its global expansion plans. In 2011, it spent $1.9 billion overseas, which is 3 times as much as it spent in the States.
Today, nearly 20% of its sites are located in India, with another 11% and 6% in Mexico and Brazil, respectively. Since 2010, the company has added some 17,000 international sites, which pushed overseas revenue up 73% in 2011 from 2010. As emerging markets upgrade infrastructure, those markets offer substantial growth.
The company carries a lot of debt from building out its properties. But it's finally seeing the benefit. Since 2007, sales have expanded a compounded 13.8% annually. And its operating profit increased 11.9% against a 10.6% gain in revenue last year.
As a result of profits rising more quickly than sales, analysts expect the company's earnings per share to increase 71% this year and another 18% next year. While the shares aren't cheap compared to other industries, its forward P/E of 32 is below its five-year P/E low, suggesting investors aren't overpaying.