Back in May 2013, investors in Canada’s telecoms were shaking in their boots.
Verizon (NYSE:VZ), the largest wireless carrier in the United States, was musing about expanding into Canada. The company felt that the U.S. market was largely saturated and wanted to make a big move to help boost the share price.
In short order, shares of Canada’s telecoms got hammered. Specifically, shares of Telus Corporation (TSX:T)(NYSE:TU) got whacked to the tune of 20% over about five weeks, falling from $37 per share to $31.
Then, something interesting happened. Shares started to rally, even though rumours were still swirling about Verizon’s imminent plans to expand into Canada. By the time Verizon officially announced it wasn’t going to expand to the Great White North, Telus shares had already gained back much of what they’d lost. By early 2014, they were making new highs.
The rest, as they say, is history. Investors who picked up Telus shares at close to the $31 per share bottom in 2013 would be sitting on a total return of about 11% annualized since. And that’s even after the most recent 20% drop in the share price.
How today is similar
Much like in 2013, it seems like Telus’s wireless business might be under threat from a new competitor with deep pockets. This time around, the competitor is a little more familiar with the Canadian market.
I’m referring to the recently announced potential acquisition of Wind Mobile by Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B)(NYSE:SJR). Shaw will pay $1.6 billion for the fourth largest wireless carrier in the country, provided the deal passes the federal government’s approval. Wind was long rumoured to be suffering from financial difficulties, and the Canadian government would love to get another true coast-to-coast competitor in the wireless space, which should be good for consumers.
But at the same time, such a move might not be good for the profit margins of the wireless carriers themselves. Shaw saw its shares fall nearly 8% on Thursday as investors collectively gave the deal a thumbs down. Telus’s shares fared a little better, but they still ended the day down 6.7%.
The reason for such a decline is simple. Investors think Shaw is going to start a price war in western Canada to get market share, since most of the spectrum Shaw acquired is based in Calgary and Vancouver (Wind is also active in Toronto). Telus dominates the market in western Canada.
Price wars aren’t good for margins. It’s that simple.
Is Telus oversold?
Investors can look at this deal in two ways. Either Telus’s business has been irreparably damaged by Shaw’s entrance into the market, or Shaw is going to have a lot of work to do in order to gain market share.
I believe the latter opinion. Wind has been a low-cost operator for years, and has still only amassed just under a million customers. It’s been nothing more than a nuisance. And remember, Wind’s spectrum only covers Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. It’s forced to use other networks when its customers leave the city limits. It’s going to take Shaw years and potentially billions of dollars in spending to build a network that evenly covers western Canada.
Remember, Shaw had spectrum it bought in 2008. It then sold it to Rogers in 2015 with the deal just closing a few months ago. That was not good timing.
Because of all this, I don’t believe Telus has much to worry about with Shaw coming into its market, at least for now.
This means investors have a great opportunity to pick up Telus shares on the cheap. The stock trades for just 16 times trailing earnings while paying a dividend of 4.6%. Telus hasn’t traded at such a cheap P/E ratio since the lows of 2013. This is shaping up to be an equally attractive opportunity to pick up shares to hold for a decade or two. Don’t miss out; these deals don’t happen very often for companies as fine as Telus.
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Fool contributor Nelson Smith owns Shaw Communications preferred shares. The Motley Fool owns shares of ROGERS COMMUNICATIONS INC. CL B NV. Rogers and Verizon are recommendations of Stock Advisor Canada.