With its share price currently hitting new highs, Telus (Telus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:T) looks to be the clear winner among Canada’s Big Three telecom plays over the past year and a half. But the company is really shaping up for long-term success, according to Paul Harris, partner at Harris Douglas Asset Management.
“We own Telus in a dividend portfolio that we run for our clients,” said Harris, speaking on BNN Bloomberg on Thursday. “Telus has a nice yield of 4.7 per cent and what’s interesting about Telus is that management has actually done a bunch of different things like Telus International where they’ve created a lot of shareholder value.”
“That’s one, but more importantly, recently Telus has really decided to spend a lot more money on capex: $1.5 billion over 2021 and 2022, and I think part of that reason is that the Rogers-Shaw deal gives them an opportunity to spread their wings a little bit and take advantage of these companies not being able to do a lot of things during this period of time,” he said.
The pandemic was supposed to be a time where investors parked their money in the relative safe havens of utility stocks like Telus, but things didn’t turn out that way. The early play was in favour of growth names in the tech field. The so-called FAANG stocks cleaned up last year, as did Canadian tech including e-commerce names like Shopify, while the defensive-minded dividend stalwarts like BCE, Rogers and Telus struggled mightily to recoup losses delivered in the early days of COVID-19.
Telus did deliver in the end, however, with the stock making it back to its pre-pandemic highs by early February of this year and over the past couple of months producing another impressive run. Telus finished 2020 at even and is currently up ten per cent year-to-date. Over the past 12 months the stock has returned 18.5 per cent, which is on top of its hefty dividend.
By comparison, neither BCE nor Rogers has yet to return to their pre-pandemic form. BCE finished 2020 down 9.5 per cent but is up 11.7 per cent year-to-date, while Rogers, currently in the middle of a proposed deal to acquire Shaw Communications (TSX:SJR.B), finished 2020 down eight per cent and is currently up 8.4 per cent for 2021.
Telus closed in March on a $1.3-billion bought deal financing round selling 51.3 million shares, with the company planning to use the funds to support its broadband build-out across the country and the roll-out of its 5G network. Management says it will spend about $3.5 billion in capital expenditures in 2021 alone, dropping to $2.5 billion next year.
“These generational investments will fuel enhanced customer growth and operating efficiencies, supported by the accelerated de-commissioning of our copper infrastructure,” said president and CEO Darren Entwistle in Telus’ first quarter 2021 press release in May.
“This will drive positive cash flow benefits as Telus completes the expedited build, alongside a faster than expected reduction in capital expenditures beginning in 2023. Importantly, this initiative will further support the advancement of our financial and operational performance, strengthening our confidence in the robust outlook for our business and the long-term sustainability of our industry-leading dividend growth program, now in its eleventh year,” he said.
Harris says Telus’ management team is one of its strengths as the company looks to complete its infrastructure build-out.
“They want to move fibre to the home and I think they were targeting about 90 per cent of homes by 2022 and they’ll be able to get there with this new increasing capex,” Harris said.
“It also allows them, I think, to take advantage of some of the growth prospects from 5G over the next couple of years. Telus is set up well to do that,” Harris said.
“Also really important is the pandemic [where] there was not a lot of travel and people were not using wireless data and wireless phone use had rolled down a lot for most of these companies. That’s one thing. The other thing is that Alberta has been in this kind of weak position over the last year but before that as well with oil. So, I think that’s coming back and their economy is doing slightly better. I think that’s going to help Telus as well,” Harris said.
“We own it and we like it here. I think the management has always been somewhat underrated relative to other places but I think they’ve done a good job,” he said.
Telus reported revenue up nine per cent year-over-year to $4.02 billion in its first quarter 2021, beating analysts’ consensus estimate at $3.94 billion, while earnings dropped six per cent to $333 million or $0.27 per share compared to the consensus forecast of $0.28 per share.