Vodafone (LSE: VOD) shares have recovered 25% since June, so am I speculating on something that’s already happened by suggesting we’re in for a rebound? Well, we have plenty of short-term spikes in shares, and many of them fail to stick.
The bigger question is over Vodafone’s chances of regaining the share price levels it was at two years ago, before the long slide set in. I think it could take a while yet for the price to break 200p again, but recent developments make me think the upwards move could be poised to continue.
The shares had been looking very poorly after the telecoms giant finally slashed its dividend in May by 40%, after years of paying out huge amounts of cash that were nowhere near covered by earnings. I’ve always maintained that an over-generous dividend policy while there’s huge debt on the books is folly — it’s effectively borrowing money to hand to shareholders. And while those who were firmly attached to their unsustainable 6%+ yields were somewhat miffed, I was pleased to see an inkling of common sense creeping back.
Then in July, at the same time that a trading update provided hints of improving market conditions, Vodafone revealed plans to spin off its mobile tower operations into a separate new business. Provisionally dubbed ‘TowerCo’, the demerged entity would control Europe’s largest tower portfolio (61,700 of the things across 10 markets) with an estimated EBITDA of around €900m. It might even result in a separate flotation, but we’ll have to see how that develops.
The market responded enthusiastically, triggering a share price uplift that has since continued. I see it as a good move too, as it’s starting to address my other key uncertainty over Vodafone. To me, the business has looked like a jumbled mess of individual country-specific operations and I haven’t been able to uncover much in the way of an overall joined-up strategy. This could be an important step.
In recent years I’ve seen the Vodafone share price as being largely led by sentiment, following on from a time when the industry was awash with takeover rumours and shares were just too highly valued. The subsequent slide has taken care of a lot of that, and investors are starting to regain some of their past enthusiasm.
I’ve taken a look at the most popular shares in August, and I covered a few you’ll know well if you read these pages. But one I didn’t mention was Vodafone. While much of the DIY investment activity was focused on safety (like buying gold), the most bought share in the month was Vodafone (with National Grid in second place, ahead of Lloyds Banking Group).
The shares are still on a toppy valuation for the current year with a forward P/E of 22, but big earnings growth forecasts are on the cards and that multiple would drop to 17 by 2020. And, by then, even the pared down dividend would be back up to a predicted 5.3% yield.
That’s looking like a sustainable valuation to me, and I think Vodafone could be finally heading out of the woods.
Alan Oscroft owns shares of Lloyds Banking Group. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Lloyds Banking Group. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.