Thursday, September 24, 2009

Questions to ponder over lunch

Is Huawei the Countrywide of vendor finance?

How can a perfect digital copy be considered a "forgery"?

Doesn't "360" also mean turning around to find yourself exactly where you started?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pimp my panel

Folks, eComm Europe is coming up fast, October 28 - 30 in Amsterdam, and you'll hate yourself if you miss it. I honestly think the speaker list is unparalleled anywhere, and the format ensures a rich flow of sharp and challenging talks on a wide range of topics of critical interest to those of us linked in the communications value chain. So look into my eyes, look deep into my eyes, and now go and register. I will be giving a talk on day one, and also moderating a panel on day two. The panel format is still being tweaked, but I have submitted the following summary, and I'd be interested to hear your feedback and input in the interest of making it as representative as possible:

Investing in the Telecom Value Chain for a Post-Meltdown World

The world has been through huge financial stress in the past two years, and despite the repeated sightings of "green shoots" by the more optimistic factions on Wall Street, many respected forecasters predict even more dire developments to come: the death of the dollar as a reserve currency, persistent high unemployment and social displacement, drastic cuts in public sector spending, runaway inflation, social unrest, the death of capitalism. While many of these outcomes represent worst case scenarios, we must accept that the "recovery," whenever it arrives, is not going to be a "reversion to business as usual," as the term is commonly defined. Consumers will behave differently and have different definitions of value, businesses will transact differently, entire industries will emerge smaller if indeed they survive at all. Add to this the increasing pressures of urbanization, migration, aging society, and climate change, and the picture becomes even more challenging. What influence will the telecom value chain exert in this new world? What opportunities do the challenges of The New Normal offer investors, and how should they position themselves?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Supersize my toast

I've seen a lot of stuff recently that I don't understand, but if we needed any evidence that this credit market rally may be getting a bit silly, I think I may have found a compelling shred. A couple of days ago, Blockbuster announced an offering of "up to" $340m in senior secured notes, but LCDNews has just reported that this offering has been up-sized to an unfathomable $675m. Most of the deals I've come across recently have been up-sized, but not doubled. The coupon may be huge, I don't know yet, but what else could make this so compelling that demand could lead to a supersizing like this, especially with incineration such a strong possibility?

Lunchtime drive-by, 16 September

Europe is grindingly dull today compared with events elsewhere:

Australia - Life gets more interesting with each passing day for Telstra and its shareholders, as it deals with both the implications of structural separation and yet another catastrophic network outage.

New Zealand - The government tells Telecom and Vodafone to take a flying leap with their proposals, in favor of a highly-localized procurement process for open-access fiber.

Taiwan - Taiwan Mobile buys MSO Kbro for 10.0x LTM EBITDA, a great exit for Carlyle into a much more interesting asset. Surely a company with ubiquitous mobile coverage will also desire a more extensive fixed footprint, particularly if it is only 1.2x levered and can afford to do more - i.e., further consolidation seems inevitable.

Adobe/Omniture - I think I understand what is happening here, or at least I understand the rhetoric around it, but Hank Williams' recent post highlights failings which make me wonder just how well the company will engage with the more demanding customer base it will carry as a result of this deal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Head-scratching time

Whatever its shortcomings as an industry, one can always count on telecom to deliver unusual and inexplicable M&A activity. Down in Greece, ON Telecoms and Vivodi, two companies I studied in great detail once upon a time in a previous incarnation, have decided to get together, in a somewhat unusual deal. Having presumably already burned a lot of cash on their own company, I'm puzzled as to why the vendors would pony-up for the entire capital increase required to get the deal done, especially when the Greek regulator seems to be giving incumbent OTE more room for maneuver on marketing of bundles. Perhaps there's some trade-off in terms of footprint complementarity, but I would be amazed if that could account for the valuation implied by the deal, EUR250m, i.e., the same as Forthnet's market cap, though Forthnet has more subscribers and also a monopoly position in satellite pay-TV.

UPDATE: Okay, I think I was probably a bit too kind here. I think this is about saving face on both sides. Greece is a pretty unique market, in that one can capture c.85% of ITC spend in just two conurbations - Attica (Athens and environs), and Thessaloniki. There's not much scope for regional niche market approaches, it's pretty much head-to-head in the big two urban centers, and there are already four big players (OTE, Forthnet, Hellas Online, and Wind Hellas) present, which history suggests is typically about the number a single market can viably support. Yes, I know that ON has Fastweb's "secret sauce" to a certain extent, but I'm not convinced that makes much difference against a more nimble OTE, Hellas Online in league with Vodafone, Forthnet, and (eventually) a restructured Wind Hellas. The latter two I do think would make an interesting asset combined, but I don't think this particular deal really moves the needle for anyone.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Battling latency and packet loss

Many years ago, I worked with a German fellow, whose name happened to be Herman, which unfortunately led to him frequently being referred to as "Herman the German," of course mainly when he was out of earshot. Anyway, Herman was a very bright guy, and possessed very good English, though he seemed to be somewhat lacking when it came to colloquial language, so he had a tendency to substitute business language in everyday situations. For example, instead of saying that someone was chatting up a woman in a bar, he would say something along the lines of, "He's performing due diligence on a possible joint venture." Maybe it was just his peculiar sense of humor.

Anyway, it can't have escaped your attention, dear reader, that I have been remiss in posting of late, and I will borrow from Herman's argot to explain that several critical functional areas of my life have been undergoing fundamental restructuring in recent weeks, inflicting high levels of packet loss and latency on my neural network. My NOC has now resolved the problem, and normal service should resume shortly. In the meantime, please enjoy this, perhaps the funniest telco story in recent history, unless of course you are a Telkom S.A. employee...