When will it be safe to invest in BT Group plc again?
Despite last month's crushing plunge to three-and-a-half-year troughs, investors have so far refused the urge to engage in a bit of dip buying over at BT Group(LSE: BT-A).
And investors are right to shun the company at the current time, in my opinion.
Balance sheet bother
Naturally, the gaping balance sheet hole created caused by accounting issues in Italy has been the prime downward driver for the BT's stock value.
An anticipated £145m hit suggested in October ballooned to £530m in less than three months, prompting BT to launch a company-wide investigation that could potentially become a horror show for the firm's investors.
However, this is not the only issue that could send BT's share price sinking further in the months ahead. Fears over the scale of the firm's pension deficit are nothing new, but some of the figures being bandied around are little short of terrifying. Indeed, UBS suggests that the shortfall could clock in as high as £13bn, almost double that of three years ago. BT is due to report on the pensions issue during the summer.
Further growth at the company's BT Consumer division gave some reason for cheer last month however, the telecoms titan seeing revenues here growing 4% in October-December, to reach £1.26bn.
BT stole a march on the likes of Sky in late 2013 when it secured UEFA Champions League and Europa League football for a colossal £897m. It was a huge statement to its rivals and a move that added to the firm's top-level suite of sporting events that have driven TV subscriptions through the roof.
But the rising pressure on BT's balance sheet may see it struggle to retain these subscription-driving shows, and could prompt an exodus by its TV customers. The next auction for UEFA's blue-riband tournaments is coming up in March and may give some indication of the firm's financial firepower.
On the plus side, BT's acquisition of EE -- the UK's largest mobile provider -- could stop sales of its packaging services falling off a cliff.
However, sales in its home territory could experience pressure from elsewhere should Vodafone and Liberty Global merge their operations, a situation that could have serious ramifications for wholesale revenues.
Cheap but not cheerful
Still, many investors would argue that the risks facing BT are factored-in at the current share price.
While the firm is expected by analysts to endure a 16% earnings decline in the period to March 2017, this results in a P/E ratio of 10.9 times. And broker predictions that earnings will rise 3% and 5% in fiscal 2018 and 2019 suggest now could be a good time to buy-in.
But the variety of problems BT faces makes predictions of sustained earnings growth a hard call to make, in my opinion.
And while the telecoms play is working hard to strip costs out of the system, the balance sheet problems I have described above -- allied with the prospect of rising bills at Openreach -- also puts a dividend yield of 4.9% under serious scrutiny.
I reckon cautious investors should steer well clear of BT for the time being.
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Royston Wild has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.