AWN closing helps Alaska Communications pay down debt


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Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. announced its second quarter results Aug. 1, posting a strong performance including increased revenue and progress toward debt reduction.

The telecom’s second quarter revenue was $97.7 million, up $7.7 million, or 8.6 percent, compared to the second quarter of 2012.

Alaska Communications also continued its debt reduction program, and is on track to complete $100 million in debt reductions this year, with $30.4 million paid off in long-term debt through the end of the second quarter, and an additional $65 million payment coming in July from the closing of the Alaska Wireless Network transaction, which provided ACS with certain cash payments from General Communication Inc., or GCI.

ACS and GCI closed on AWN, which merges the companies’ infrastructure, after receiving federal regulatory approval in July. AWN began operating July 23.

Overall, ACS President and CEO Anand Vadapalli said he was pleased with the company’s performance.

“Our results for the quarter were stellar,” Vadapalli said.

At the end of the second quarter, the company’s net debt was $509.9 million, down from $546.8 million at the end of the second quarter of 2012.

The telecom also offered investors guidance on its expected revenue for the rest of 2013 for the first time this year during its Aug. 1 investor call.

“Now that the Alaska Wireless Network has closed, we’ll also provide a longer term view of our business,” Vadapalli said during the Aug. 1 call.

For 2013, the company expects revenue in the range of $340 to $350 million for the full year.

That’s based on the known $188.7 million in revenue for the first half of the year, plus the telecom’s expectations for the second half. Business and wholesale revenue are expected to decline slightly as backhaul moves to AWN, and wireless roaming will also move to AWN, changing that figure. Consumer and wireless service revenue is expected to hold steady. Access line revenue should increase, according to the telecom, while CETC will likely decrease about 10 percent due to rule changes.

The company expects adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, or EBITDA, of about $105 million to $110 million, capital spending of about $50 million, cash interest expense of about $35 million, free cash flow of about $20 million to $25 million, and net debt at the end of the year of about $420 million to $430 million.

The growth in revenue this quarter was driven largely by a $6.1 million increase in roaming revenue.

Aside from the growth in roaming revenue, Alaska Communications saw the strongest growth in business and wholesale revenue, up $2.2 million or 8.7 percent compared to the same quarter in 2012, and wireless revenue, up $5.4 million or 15.8 percent.

Wireless subscribers were up 328 compared to the prior quarter, and both business and consumer broadband connections increased compared to the prior quarter as well.

The telecom also saw a decrease in its cost of service and sales. That metric was down $2.9 million to $37.2 million, largely because the cost of devices and accessories was down $4.9 million compared to the same quarter of 2012.

Labor costs were up, however, driving an overall increase in the cost of selling, general and administrative costs of $1.9 million, or 7.5 percent, compared to the second quarter of 2012.

Some metrics continued to fall, such as consumer access lines, which was down to 52,438 compared to 54,037 in the prior quarter, and business access lines decreased slightly from 80,770 in the first quarter to 80,517 in the second.

EBITDA was up 32.9 percent year-over-year, at $33.9 million for the second quarter compared to $25.5 million for the second quarter of 2012, and cash interest expense and free cash flow were also up year-over-year.

Capital spending, however, was down. AWN is also expected to strengthen the Alaska Communications cash flow. The company will receive preferential distributions of $50 million for the first two years, and then a diminishing amount, and eventually just a share inline with its one-third ownership share of AWN.

Of the $100 million the company received at closing, it used $65 million to pay down debt, another chunk is going to costs, and the company expected to have about $20 million to $25 million in liquidity. Alaska Communications was still deciding how to best use that money during its investor call.

That is expected to mitigate other losses in cash flow, such as declines in high cost support, according to the telecom.

Alaska Communications also announced build out plans with its quarterly results. It will work on a fiber-to-node build to improve broadband capabilities. That work will start in Anchorage, with a primary initial benefit to business customers.

Alaska Communications stock has been on the rise, closing at $2.55 Aug. 1, and $3.15 Aug. 2 after its earnings report.

More recently, the price Aug. 7 was $3.41, just off its 52-week high of $3.61.

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