Why Cable and Telecom Stocks Were Soaring Today

A left-for-dead government subsidy program appears to have been revived by a bipartisan group of Senators.

Shares of cable telecom stocks Comcast (CMCSA 2.25%), Charter Communications (CHTR 4.12%), and Shenandoah (SHEN 11.48%) rallied on Wednesday, up 2.8%, 4.3%, and 9.8%, respectively, as of 1:15 p.m. ET, even as the broader markets were in the red.

The entire industry got a lift today as a bipartisan group of Senators revived a key government subsidy program.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is alive

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced an amendment to the 2024 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which would provide roughly $6 billion in funding toward the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), along with another $3 billion to “rip and replace” equipment from Chinese telecom equipment providers ZTE and Huawei.

Telecom and cable stocks have been facing headwinds, as the current ACP, which provides a $30 per month broadband subsidy to low-income households, is in its final month of funding. Thus far, Congress has balked on continuing to fund the program or find room for it in the federal budget. If the subsidy were to go away, some 23 million households would either not pay their bills or pay only a portion to their current broadband provider, creating a big risk for those providers.

But late Tuesday, a bipartisan group of six Senators introduced an amendment that would attach the ACP to the FAA Reauthorization Act, which must be passed at some point.

Notably, the amendment is a modified form of the ACP bill that was shot down earlier this year. It shrinks the subsidy by about $1 billion from $7 billion to $6 billion, lowering the wage threshold for subsidy qualification while also implementing measures meant to curb waste and abuse.

Person streams a show on a TV.

Broadband stocks got a lift from the U.S. Senate today. Image source: Getty Images.

On their recent conference calls, Charter, Comcast, and Shenandoah all referred to the expiration of the ACP as a potential risk for elevated churn in the upcoming second and third quarters. Charter noted it had 5 million ACP customers out of its roughly 30 million (or 17%) residential relationships. Comcast has about 1.4 million ACP recipients out of about 31.6 (4.4%) million residential customers. And Shenandoah said it had less ACP exposure than large players, at less than 4% of its customer base.

Therefore, should the program be revived, that would be a relief to all these companies’ financials. It’s a bit curious that Shenandoah is up much more than the others, given its lower proportion of ACP customers. But Shenandoah is a much smaller company at just a $900 million market cap, and positive or negative news tends to have an outsized effect on smaller-cap companies. Shenandoah had also seen its stock essentially cut in half in just the past five months or so. So, it was perhaps due for a bounce on any good news.

Cable stocks remain a tough bet

Value investors may be looking toward the cable and telecom industry right now, as many players have seen their stocks sink to low valuations amid higher interest rates. However, broadband companies are still risky.

They are capital intensive, often dependent on government subsidies for a portion of their customer base, as we see today, and competition appears to be intensifying from both 5G wireless and new-age high-speed fiber builds. Meanwhile, the industry is largely saturated, and the cable bundle is in decline. Therefore, these companies are largely dependent on annual broadband price increases, which is becoming increasingly more difficult.

So, while these companies are enjoying the positive news today, investors may want to assess the outstanding risks before diving in.

Billy Duberstein has positions in Charter Communications. His clients may own shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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