With all the tumult in the market these days, it’s a good time to be investing in the defensively-minded Canadian telecom space, particularly Telus Corp (Telus Stock Quote, Charts, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:T), which portfolio manager Paul Harris says has been doing a great job at diversifying beyond its core business.
“Telus is a company that we own in our Dividend portfolio for our clients. We think Telus has done a great job thinking about different businesses,” said Harris, partner at Harris Douglas Asset Management, who spoke on a BNN Bloomberg segment on Wednesday.
“They spun off TELUS International and they just bought LifeWorks, which is going into their health care business, and I think they’ll hopefully at some point in time spin that off as well,” he said.
Telus announced the proposed acquisition earlier this month of Toronto-based LifeWorks, a human resources services company formerly known as Morneau Shepell in a deal valued at $2.9 billion. LifeWorks, whose platform supports employee and family assistance plans, benefits and retirement planning, positions itself as a digital and in-person solutions provider, one which Telus says will complement the company’s own digital health offerings which include virtual care, virtual pharmacy and home health monitoring.
Telus said cost synergies of the acquisition could be between $170 million and $200 million over the next three to five years and give the TELUS Health and LifeWorks entity a combined revenue of about $1.6 billion. Telus said the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.
“Today’s announcement will enable us to combine the respective skills and capabilities of LifeWorks and TELUS Health, creating a globally leading, end-to-end, digital-first employee preventative and mental health and wellness platform covering more than 50 million lives,” said Telus President and CEO Darren Entwistle in a press release.
“At TELUS Health, our mission is predicated on the belief that we can build a healthier future for people around the world by leveraging the power of technology, in combination with our caring culture, to promote collaboration and efficiency, and create better health experiences across the entire health ecosystem,” Entwistle said.
Commenting on the LifeWorks acquisition, Scotiabank analyst Jeff Fan said the deal will strengthen Telus’ position in the still-growing digital health field.
“This acquisition will position the company as not only a significant force in the corporate well-being and EAP (employee assistance program) space in Canada but also opens the potential for more growth and tuck-ins internationally,” Fan said in a note to clients.
After a superb run going back a couple of years, Telus’ share price has been moving south since topping out in early April. Telus was flat over an up-and-down 2020 but last year returned 18 per cent. That’s without mentioning the hefty dividend which is currently at a yield of about 4.7 per cent.
But the downturn in the last few months has been the same across the the Canadian telco space, utilities and the market in general. Telus delivered first quarter earnings last month that were a little lighter than expected on revenue, although the company did see strong results from offshoot TELUS International, an IT services and customer experience segment which delivered 20 per cent year-over-year growth in revenue and 35 per cent growth in EBITDA.
For its Q1 2022, Telus revenue was $4.28 billion, up six per cent from a year earlier, and net income was up 21 per cent to $404 million or $0.30 per share on an adjusted basis. Analysts had been calling for $4.35 billion and $0.30 per share, respectively.
Telus said it was launching a dividend growth program targeting seven to ten per cent annual growth for 2023 through 2025, which the company said will be made possible due to its positive business outlook and strong cash flow growth.
“Backed by our diversified asset mix, our consistently strong performance underscores Telus’ unique ability to return capital to investors through our dividend growth program while simultaneously funding significant strategic growth investments,” said CFO Doug French in a press release.
For Harris, Telus’ stronger presence in Western Canada should benefit it as that part of the country regains its economic footing.
“Telus has a great yield, well over four per cent. I think One of the things that hurt Telus was the slowdown in the oil business and economic Western Canada, but I think that’s certainly coming back. So, I think Telus has some great opportunities. We own it at these levels and we continue to buy it,” he said.