The Vodafone Group (LSE: VOD) share price fell by 3.5% in early trade this morning, after the FTSE 100 telecoms giant announced the departure of chief executive Vittorio Colao.
The news overshadowed a solid set of results from the firm. Organic revenue rose by 1.6% to EUR41,066m during the year to 31 March, while operating profit climbed 15.4% to EUR4.3bn. Adjusted earnings rose by 44% to 11.59 euro cents per share, beating consensus forecasts for earnings of 10 euro cents per share.
Vodafone shares have lagged the FTSE 100 over the last year, falling by about 5% while the FTSE has risen by about 3%. In this piece I'll explain why I think Vodafone is now well positioned to roar ahead of the FTSE.
Ready for the future
During Mr Colao's 10 years in charge, he's made a number of changes. The company's mobile customer base has doubled from 269m to 536m. By making selected acquisitions and disposals, he's focused the group on countries where it has scale and opportunity for long-term growth.
Last week the company announced an EUR18bn deal to buy Liberty Global's German and Eastern Europe cable networks. When this completes, Vodafone will have both the largest mobile network and the largest cable and fibre network in Europe.
This should leave the group in a good position to deliver modern, converged services -- data-focused products that allow subscribers access to all of their digital services, all of the time.
What comes next?
This transformation hasn't been without cost. The group's net debt of EUR31.5bn represents 2.1 times adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). That's at the upper end of what I'm comfortable with.
However, I don't expect this figure to rise much further in the hands of Mr Colao's successor, chief financial officer Nick Read. Mr Read says that his job will be to get the most of out of the firm's assets and to oversee the integration of recent acquisitions.
I expect this to gradually deliver higher profits while maintaining the group's strong cash generation.
A cash machine
Vodafone's free cash flow before spectrum payments rose by 34% to EUR5,417m last year.
Including spectrum payments, free cash flow was 22% higher at EUR4,044m. This works out at about 15.2 cents per share, providing free cash flow cover for the group's dividend payout of 15.07 cents.
At today's exchange rates, this payout gives a dividend yield of 6.6%. And although this payout isn't covered by earnings, I believe the group's strong cash generation should mean that the dividend remains safe for the foreseeable future.
What comes next?
the incoming chief executive will be expected to address Vodafone's main weakness, its lack of growth.
Group revenue has only risen by an average of 1% per year since 2012 and was 2.2% lower last year, at EUR46,571m. Profits recovered last year but are expected to be flat in 2018/19. Today's guidance for the coming year suggests that adjusted EBITDA will be between EUR14.15bn and EUR14.65bn this time, compared to last year's figure of EUR14.7bn.
On this basis the shares look expensive, on about 22 times forecast earnings. But given that the 6% dividend is backed by free cash flow, I think the stock could be a good buy for income investors.
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Roland Head has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.