Global lockdown surges internet usage, resulting in Telcos under performance

CIOReviewIndia Team | Tuesday, 14 April 2020, 12:19 IST

Global lockdown surges internet usage, resulting in Telcos under performance

The global lockdowns have led to a surge in internet use, augmenting online sales for businesses as varied as gaming and food delivery, however the stocks of internet providers are improbably laggard on international markets.

In the Asian, African, American and European countries, a combination of high fixed costs, debt and market disruption has left telcos remarkably under performing the data hungry businesses their networks carry.

“It’s a bit of surprise,” said Kasper Elmgreen, equities head at Europe’s biggest fund manager, Amundi Asset Management.“The traditional defensive sectors have played defensive, but telecoms have not really been defensive,” he said, pointing to price drops more or less in line with European markets.

Across the world, a 13 per cent drop in the MSCI world telecommunications services index pales in comparison to healthcare, down 6 per cent, technology, down 8 per cent, or consumer staples, down 10 per cent.The below-par showing illustrates the difficult dynamics facing carriers, even when their services are more essential than ever.

Around the globe, millions of people are staying in their homes and businesses closed as governments restrict movement to stop the spread of the coronavirus.This has driven business and entertainment online, but unfortunately left telcos spending to service surging demand, and, with fixed pricing structures, no quick way to monetize the investment.

At the same time, roaming revenue has dried up as people travel less, and telcos are reviving for a plunge in new contracts accompanying a wave of unemployment as businesses shut.

“Because of flat-rate deals, we hardly get any extra revenue if people spend more time surfing or talking on the phone,” Ralph Dommermuth, Chief Executive of German telco 1&1 Drillisch AG, said.“I can’t yet say whether more time being spent in the home office will compensate for revenue losses that will arise because many companies or private individuals have to put off renewing their contracts or can’t pay their bills,” he added.

The outlook has driven stock drops as investors are anxious and fret about dividends that have been under pressure for years. Vodafone Group PLC, the world’s second biggest mobile operator, in the month of march said data traffic had surged 50 per cent, but its stock is down 23 per cent the same as benchmark index.

“Not only do telcos have capex for 5G, but they also have debt payments,” said Tariq Dennison, Managing Director at GFM Asset Management in Hong Kong. “So, whenever their cash flows fall, their first priority has to be to those bond holders,” he added.

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