Two Small Cable Stocks Won Big in 2023

Dec 30, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 30, 2023 – In 2023, cable investors made big money with the little guys. But they had to be the right little guys.

The stocks that moved the highest among publicly traded cable companies in 2023 were not sector giants like Comcast and Charter, but regional players like TDS Telecom and Shentel – which is opposite of what happened in the broader market.

Company

Jan. 3, 2023 Close

Dec. 29, 2023 Close

Change

Altice

$4.59

$3.25

(29.1%)

Cable One

$683.37    

$556.59    

(18.5%)

Charter

$341.58    

$388.68    

13.8%

Comcast

$34.82      

$43.85

25.9%

Shentel

$16.30      

$21.62

32.6%

TDS Telecom

$10.34

$18.35

77.5%

WOW!

$9.45

$4.05

(57.1%)


The S&P 500 – home of Big Tech names like Apple, Amazon and Google – moved up 24.2% (excluding dividends) while the small cap Russell 2000 lagged with just a 15.1% gain on the year. Friday was the last day of trading for 2023.

The big winner in the cable category was Wisconsin-based TDS Telecom, which under CEO Jim Butman continues to roll out fiber in small markets like Bangor, Maine; Socorro, New Mexico; and Niota, Tennessee. TDS has 1.2 million connections to high-speed Internet, phone, and TV entertainment. Broadband speeds top out at 8 Gbps in the home and 10 Gbps in the office.

TDS’ stock almost doubled in early August on news its corporate parent was exploring the sale of U.S. Cellular, which offers wireless service to 4.7 million consumers in 21 states. TDS – which owns 83% of U.S. Cellular – closed out 2023 up 77.5%.

Shentel, based Edinburg, Va., was up 32.6%. The company under veteran CEO Christopher French continues to impress Wall Street with its new fiber broadband service reaching into five mid-Atlantic states. Shentel’s GloFiber Internet service has attained 202,000 passings and is adding subscribers at a double-digital pace, both year-over-year and sequentially. Shentel in October announced the purchase of Horizon Telcom for $385 million, consisting of $305 million in cash and $80 million of Shentel stock.

Betting on the smaller cable names, however, did not automatically mean juicy profits.

WideOpenWest (WOW!) saw it shares crash 57.1% because of a poor third quarter that included a startling loss of 4,400 broadband subscribers and word from CEO Teresa Elder that the fourth quarter would be “significantly worse,” with an estimated loss of 13,000 broadband subscribers. WOW! is looking to exit the cable TV business via a partnership with linear streaming service You Tube TV owned by Google.

Cable One was another loser in the small cable category, with its stock down 18.5%. But a down year was nothing new for the Phoenix-based company, which pioneered the strategy of stressing broadband and letting cable TV shrivel on the vine. The company has 1.05 million broadband subscribers and 148.9 million video customers. In November, CEO Julie Laulis said, “We are navigating the final stages of decline in our video product.”

When the Fed was holding interest rates close to zero, highly leveraged Cable One saw its stock soar. But over the past three years, Cable One’s stock has declined 76%, representing a $10 billion loss in market capitalization. Cable One’s $3.13 billion market cap today is almost $550 million less than its long-term corporate debt.

Cable’s bellwether names – Comcast and Charter – had up years.

Comcast saw its stock rise by 25.9%, comfortably better than the S&P 500. The stock advanced even though Comcast continues to incur heavy cable TV subscriber losses. Wall Street was a bit stunned when Comcast reported losing 18,000 broadband subscribers in the third quarter. Good news came in early December, however, when Disney’s check for $8.61 billion arrived in exchange for Comcast’s one-third stake in the Hulu streaming service. CEO Brian Roberts and President Mike Cavanagh are hopeful that a final Hulu appraisal will yield billions more.

Charter was up almost 14%, likely driven forward by CEO Chris Winfrey’s deft handling of his programming dispute with Disney in late August just ahead of the new NFL season. Charter – in addition to casting off eight smaller Disney networks like Freeform and Nat Geo Wild – won the right to offer Disney’s streaming services to its cable TV customers in an effort to inject new life into the cable bundle.

However, Charter’s stock took a hit in early December after CFO Jessica Fischer disclosed the company could lose broadband subscribers in the four quarter after adding 63,000 subscribers in the third. Charter’s inability to keep growing broadband could be the effects of competitive pressure from fast-growing fixed wireless access (FWA) service from T-Mobile and Verizon, which combined added 941,000 Internet customers in the third quarter.

In other results, Alice USA was down 29.1 percent, hobbled by a range of problems, including: a big debt burden, sequential broadband subscriber losses, and declining revenue and net income. CEO Dennis Mathew is hoping the company can regain momentum with a fiber-first approach while closely managing capital expenditures. The company ended the third quarter with 4.5 million broadband subscribers.

Altice USA has also been involved in a corruption scandal that began with corporate sibling Altice Portugal. Altice USA Chairman Alexandre Fonseca had to step aside from his duties in July, including resigning as board Chairman. Mathew was named the new Chairman.