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Two Wireless Stocks to Avoid

Sprint Nextel and USA Mobility shares aren't likely to turn around any time soon.

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Sometimes it seems as if the human species has transmogrified into creatures with mobile phones permanently attached to their heads. The ubiquity and overuse of the devices might fool an investor into believing that any company involved in that industry is a steady "consumer staple" play that can't miss, regardless of the vicissitudes of the economy. But there are some wireless communications firms whose stocks are best ignored for now, and

Sprint Nextel



USA Mobility


head the list.

Sprint has been steadily losing market share to telecom heavyweights




Verizon Communications


with little indication that it can reverse the trend. Sprint's revenue slipped 2.1% in fiscal 2007 and skidded 10.9% in the second quarter of 2008 compared with the year-earlier period.

In 2007 Sprint wrote off $29.7 billion of good-will associated with its megamerger with Nextel -- an indication that that the combination wasn't a marriage made in heaven. That helped drive down earnings, including extraordinary items, from 45 cents a share in 2006 to a loss of $10.31 a common share.

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The consensus is for Sprint to earn 13 cents a share in 2008, which values its shares close to a 23 multiple. If that seems like a rich price for a company with a shrinking customer base and shriveling revenue, the accompanying table shows that with earnings estimated to slip to 12 cents a share next year, its projected multiple of more than 25 is even pricier.

Sprint's stock has recently been fluctuating in the $3-$4 range, down from an interim peak in the low $20s in 2005.

Next up is USA Mobility.

Paging and messaging services, the traditional offerings of USA Mobility, are becoming far less relevant in the age of smartphones, text messaging and Blackberrys. A status symbol a quarter century ago, the paging device has been evaporating into obscurity.

USMO's revenue crumbled 24.3% in 2006 and fell another 14.7% last year. Payment of $54.3 million in deferred taxes weighed in the fall from earnings per share of $1.46 in 2006 to a loss of 19 cents a share last year.

The consensus estimate is for the USMO's profit to recover to $1.32 a share this year. That still leaves its profitability per share 9.6% short of its level from 2006.

If USMO's stock seems cheap at only seven times this year's earnings, the table below shows that it is significantly less of a bargain at 10 times next year's projected profit.

USA Mobility's stock price has recently been stuck in the $8-$10 area, down from the $40 range it reached in 2005.

With each of these firms headquartered in the northern Virginia suburbs neighboring D.C., Sprint and USA Mobility share more than just proximity of home offices. USMO offers mobile voice and data services through Sprint, including

Research In Motion's


BlackBerry devices and global positioning system (GPS) location applications.

Unfortunately for shareholders of the two mobile telecom firms, they don't seem to share prospects for turnarounds in their respective share prices.

Richard Widows is a senior financial analyst for Ratings. Prior to joining, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.