Suppliers suffer more than operators in first quarter 2009

First quarter 2009 results are showing greater recession impact on suppliers than operators, according to the latest analysis. Two weeks into the 1Q09 earnings cycle, research company, Ovum, has looked at results to date across a broad spectrum of industry participants to get a sense of how the recession is impacting the telecoms industry.

Specifically, it looked at results for ten telecoms operators, seven equipment vendors, six component makers, and two contract manufacturers. The operators are all based in North America, whereas the revenues of the other companies represent global operations.
The good news is that telecoms services are feeling the recession’s impact, but not as severely as other segments
Service provider revenues from mobile operations in Ovum’s sample grew just 3.4% in 1Q09, several percentage points lower than the pre-recession growth rates, which ranged from 9.4% to 11.8% (1Q07 through 4Q07, since the recession began in December 2007).

North American results are heavily skewed by Sprint, whose revenues fell 12%. With Sprint’s results removed, mobile revenues grew 8.7%, which is closer to our expectation for other regions and the global average growth in 1Q09.

Service provider revenues from fixed operations declined 3.2% in 1Q09 compared to 1Q08. In comparison, pre-recession quarterly growth in 2007 ranged from -1.8% to +0.5%. Level 3 posted the largest decline (10.3%) and Time Warner Cable the best showing, with revenue growth of 4.9%. Time Warner’s growth was driven by a 23% increase in voice revenues and an 11% increase in high speed access subscriptions, highlighting consumers’ growing acceptance of voice over IP and the stickiness of broadband services.

Ovum’s conclusion is that both mobile and fixed service provider revenues are down a few percentage points compared to pre-recession rates. Given the double-digit declines seen in many other industries, we take this as good news. These results are also generally in line with our forecasts, which assume that telecoms services are somewhat recession resistant and the impact felt will be relatively mild compared to other industries.

The bad news is that large CAPEX reductions are hurting most telecoms suppliers. While service providers’ revenues in our sample fell only a few percentage points in 1Q09, the results so far show operators are making widespread and deep cuts in capital spending.

Among fixed operators in Ovum’s sample, CAPEX fell 16%; among mobile operators it fell 27% (the latter heavily skewed by Sprint). Even companies with above average revenue growth made cuts: Verizon Wireless grew revenues 9% and cut CAPEX by 7.4%, and Time Warner Cable grew revenues nearly 5% and cut CAPEX by 9%.

The CAPEX reductions have clearly hurt suppliers. Among equipment vendors in our sample, revenues declined 15% on average, with Alcatel-Lucent down 6.9%, NSN down 12.1%, and Cisco down 21.5% (with exchange rate effects factored out for Alcatel-Lucent and NSN). Not surprisingly, operating margins were down across the board, with some, including Alcatel-Lucent and NSN, reporting losses.

Further down the supply chain, component revenues were down almost 20% in our sample, and contract manufacturing revenues were down nearly 28%, once again proving that the ‘bullwhip effect’ is alive and well.

A couple of bright spots are also starting to appear. Wireless backhaul leader Ceragon reported a revenue decline of only 7%, and software vendor VMware’s revenues actually grew by 7%, driven by a 48% increase in services revenues.

All in all, the results appear to be falling in line with our expectations and previous opinions. More complete analysis of the 1Q09 results will be forthcoming at the conclusion of the period reporting cycle.