Nextel's (NXTL) got bad timing. Make that great timing. OK, let's just say Nextel's got $1 billion.
Tuesday Nextel raised $1 billion, following up a January debt fund-raiser of $1.25 billion, by selling 10-year notes that are convertible to 42 million shares of Nextel stock at just under $24, a 25% premium over Tuesday's $19.07 close. The wireless carrier plans to spend $2.5 billion building out its network in 2001 and already had $4.8 billion lined up to pay for it.
Wall Street responded by pushing Nextel down lower than its sector mates, as the stock fell more than 9% to $17.30 in Wednesday trading. Opinions were split on Nextel's need to raise the money -- of course, it needs to aggressively upgrade its network, but it has tapped into a soft market for funding twice in four months' time.
The McCaw brainchild has been plagued by capitalization doubts, so it can't be blamed for getting a monetary cushion beneath it. At the same time the $23.84 premium is a shadow of the company's 52-week stock high of $72. Not to mention that those 42 million shares will make up 4.6% of Nextel shares.
analyst Colette Fleming puzzled in a research note: "We are not quite sure why Nextel elected to take advantage of this window." Her company has done underwriting for Nextel. But others saw it as a reasonable action given the current
Fed rate cuts and the necessity of all rapidly expanding wireless-network operators to get their hands on capital when they can.
Despite a lower price than perhaps Nextel could've gotten in a reinvigorated market,
Peter Friedland believes the company is sending a message to investors. "By my estimate, Nextel's cash will last them through 2003. This gives investors the comfort that Nextel can focus on the business," he says. "That only better positions the company in this kind of environment." Friedland's firm has not done investment banking for Nextel.
While we look at the past few months and a struggling stock price,
analyst Ben Abramovitz believes it's a hint at the future, instead. He believes Nextel's most recent $1 billion is probably the money to fund a new type of network rollout. "Before they go and announce to the world their migration plan, they are announcing how it's going to be funded," Abramovitz says. His firm has done no investment banking for Nextel. Nextel has said it is in talks with vendors about financing plans and has briefly mentioned an interest in CDMA (code division multiple access) equipment, putting it in the market to buy.
For richer or poorer, it's got the money to pay.