Verizon Explored REIT Before Windstream's Surprise Announcement

By Josh Long Comments
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The notion of converting telecommunications assets into a real-estate investment trust (REIT) is perhaps garnering the interest of an increasing number of American phone companies.

During the Oppenheimer Technology, Internet & Communications Conference on Tuesday, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said the company has examined a REIT.

“VZ has looked into moving its copper and fiber assets into a REIT structure, but Mr. Shammo noted the process is more complex for VZ and it would also prevent them from divesting its copper assets down the road," said Timothy Horan, an Oppenheimer analyst, in a research report.

REITs have garnered increased attention in the telecom space after Windstream announced an agreement to spin off its telecom network assets into one under a tax-free transaction that the company said will enable it to lower debt by $3.2 billion and boost cash flow.

Horan indicated he predicts Verizon will wait to see how Windstream’s REIT trades publicly before making any decisions.

Steve Sweeney, an analyst at Elevation, expressed skepticism in a research note that Verizon would make a move to convert assets to a REIT, explaining Verizon’s size and shareholder structure would make such a transaction more complex, Investor’s Business Daily reported.

Although AT&T hasn’t announced an interest in a REIT, a writer for Seeking Alpha recently calculated that such a deal could benefit AT&T’s shareholders, resulting in an increase in annual distribution of $1.32 per share on the low end. One of the benefits of a REIT, Black Coral Research President Clinton Holmes explained in the article, is that it can distribute more than 90 percent of taxable income to unit holders without paying tax.

Windstream expects to complete its proposed spinoff in the first quarter of 2015, subject to final approval by the board of directors, regulatory approvals and other closing conditions. Windstream says the transaction will allow the REIT, which will own the Little Rock, Arkansas-based company’s existing fiber and copper network and other fixed real-estate assets, to expand its network and diversify its assets through acquisitions. Windstream, which claims to own the fifth-largest fiber network in the United States, will control the network assets through a “triple net" master lease agreement.

Last week, Windstream reported second-quarter revenues and sales of $1.47 billion, a 1.9 percent decrease from the same period the prior year, on net income of $14 million, or 2 cents per share.

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