Vodafone’s leverage issue continues to drive its strategy and operational focus, as evidenced in its H1 results with solid EBITDA but lacklustre revenues.

Its leverage crisis is severely exacerbated by the prospect of a fibre build in Germany as well as a sizeable headwind to its cable business momentum there. Further sell-downs at Vantage will help and we view the prospects of consolidation as slightly improved, with Spain the most promising option.

Growth in the UK appears to be on hold and the outlook is mixed with VMO2’s notice for early termination for its MVNO, ongoing B2B weakness expected but significant inflation-linked price rises on the cards.

Market revenue growth remained positive in Q3 despite much of the lockdown bounceback dropping out, and is at a significantly higher level than pre-pandemic.

The backbook pricing pressure that has plagued the operators over the last 18 months appears to be finally starting to drop away, allowing strong demand and firm pricing to feed through.

The prospects for next year are also very positive, with firm price increases expected from April, ultrafast upgrades growing in significance, and continued annualisation of backbook issues.

VMO2’s half-year results were something of a mixed bag with some decent revenue momentum but a big hit to EBITDA as COVID cost-savings unwound and company full year guidance suggests a further deterioration in Q4.

Volt, VMO2’s convergence product, is well-conceived and executed. With a following wind it should avoid the pitfall of revenue dilution whilst potentially offering some upsides.

The company remains in strategic limbo awaiting an outcome on its wholesale discussions with Sky. This will determine not just fibre expansion plans but also branding and co-marketing of its central products.

Sky has started to reap benefits from its substantial reduction in sports rights costs in Italy and Germany, helping to grow group EBITDA by 76% in Q3, despite a slight drop in revenue.

With this change in strategy, the business model in Italy is undergoing an upheaval. Meanwhile, the UK continues to perform well, with further promise on the horizon thanks to the bold launch of Sky Glass.

This streaming TV is a future-proofing leap forwards in Sky’s ever-more-central aggregation strategy, starting the business down the long path to retiring satellite, though this is probably still over a decade away.

BT had a resilient Q2, beating consensus expectations with revenue growth improving and EBITDA only just declining despite a very tough comparable, and it reiterated its guidance for the full year.

Solid operation trends, strong cost control and inflation-linked price increases leave the company (and ourselves) extremely confident in prospects for next year.

Full fibre roll-out is also going well, with reduced costs and Sky/TalkTalk signing up to a pricing offer which will lead to accelerated adoption from next quarter, and an increasing unlikelihood of them signing up with others.

Press reports that Sky is in advanced talks to co-invest in Virgin Media O2’s upgrade of its cable network to full fibre are something of a surprise, with a host of issues for both parties to carefully consider

The muted deal would be somewhat negative for BT (although limited by Sky’s c.15% market share in VMO2 areas and regulatory protections/upsides). It is, however, a stark reminder of the precarious economics of alternative networks such as CityFibre

Whether this makes VMO2 more likely to extend its network further is a more critical issue, certainly for BT

 

Sky’s revenue was up 15% in Q2, back to pre-COVID levels despite some lingering pandemic effects such as most pubs and clubs remaining closed. EBITDA fell by a third, driven by higher costs from sports rights, since very few live sports events took place in Q2 2020.

The impact of “resetting” football rights is already evident in Germany and Italy, with 248k net customer losses across the group despite growth in the UK. However, Sky will make substantial savings, and we expect this will more than offset lost revenues.

Meanwhile, Sky continues to strike deals with other content providers, solidifying its position as the leading household entertainment gatekeeper. In time, apps for NBCU’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, ITV Hub, and, in Germany, RTL TV Now and DAZN, will all be aggregated within Sky Q.

VMO2’s inaugural results reinforced the company’s focus on profitability with EBITDA growth of 6% and record margins. Flat revenues year-on-year benefited from the annualisation of the COVID-19 hit but incorporated little by way of rebound.

Much remains to be seen in terms of strategy but indications thus far are reassuring with B2B a clear focus for revenue growth, and the benefits of direct distribution feeding through to profitability.

The company’s decision to build an overlay full fibre network is a bold, but smart, move—allaying justified obsolescence fears about its network, enhancing strategic flexibility, and reducing its cost base.

BT’s revenue growth bounced back by 3ppts in Q1, and EBITDA growth surged into positive territory for the first time since 2018, enjoying significant bounceback as it lapped the start of the pandemic.

Some aspects of the bounce are temporary, but some business lines are yet to recover at all, and there are positive signs of an underlying return to sustainable growth across much of BT.

Openreach’s momentum continues to grow with much more to come, and VMO2’s switch to full fibre reduces a long-term upside but introduces no significant new downside in our view.