What We Will Learn From Alaska Communications' Next Report

Investors love Alaska Communications Systems (NAS: ALSK) for one quality above all else: a very generous dividend yield. But the payouts aren't quite what they used to be, and neither is the stock price:


Alaska Communications Systems Group Dividend Yield Chart by YCharts

The regional telecom heads into Wednesday night's fourth-quarter report on shaky legs. In the third-quarter report, management said the dividend policy was under review with negative implications. A few weeks later, AlaskaComm brought out the hedge trimmers to slash the dividend by 75%. Share prices have fallen by 29% since that fateful announcement.

Analysts currently expect the company to report $0.03 of non-GAAP earnings per share on sales of roughly $84 million. By hitting those numbers, Alaska's financial health would be largely unchanged from the year-ago quarter. The company is scaling back dividend payouts to conserve cash in anticipation of higher network support costs and the entry of Verizon Communications (NYS: VZ) into the Alaskan market.

Moreover, this move should accelerate the buildout of a 4G LTE wireless network. Look for more detail on the 4G plans in this week's earnings call. And don't panic if guidance for the next quarter looks a little skimpy on the bottom line: Alaska moved some of the 4G development costs into the next fiscal year as the selection of equipment vendors took longer than anticipated.

Thanks to the free-falling share price, AlaskaComm's dividend yields are beefier than Verizon's again. The current 6.6% annual payout nearly matches fellow regional operator CenturyLink (NYS: CTL) at 7.2%. And if management decides to get back to quarterly dividends of $0.22 per share like the ones it used to provide, even the 8.9% yield of Frontier Communications (NYS: FTR) would look skimpy by comparison. Management promised details on its long-term plans in this report, which could put a deadline on the skinny payouts.

I know, it's not a slam-dunk outcome. But I like telecom operators putting cash away for a rainy day and investing in next-generation networks. That's why I'm willing to bet my CAPS score on Alaska's long-term future. If the company starts to raise those dwindling payouts again, the stock price should follow -- thus reducing the yield for new investors, natch. So there's a brand-new bullish CAPScall on Alaska Communications in my all-star CAPS portfolio today.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+. We have adisclosure policy.

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