Vodafone’s financial metrics appear to be slowly ticking up and it is making some progress in narrowing its performance gap to peers. Signs that it may be moving away from a discount-led convergence strategy in Germany are very positive.

Organic EBITDA growth is highly flattered by one-off items and, as is frequently the case, even this headline EBITDA growth for FY20 is wiped out by currency depreciation in ‘Rest of World’ countries.

This lack of real progress on EBITDA and FCF and the muted outlook for both exacerbates Vodafone’s tight leverage position. There seems very little prospect of it unsettling the O2/Virgin Media JV in the UK.
 

European mobile service revenue growth improved by 1ppt to -1.2% primarily as a consequence of diminished competitive intensity in France. Trends elsewhere were largely flat.

The mobile sector is playing an important role in tackling COVID-19 and is likely to be relatively resilient in the short term with a broadly neutral financial impact. Longer term it will be exposed to the fortunes of the economy.

There are reasons to believe that the improvement in trends evidenced in the last quarter may continue as churn reduction takes the heat out of some markets, cuts to intra-EU calls annualises out and for most countries, end-of-contract notifications will only begin to impact in 2021.
 

Vodafone’s revenue performance remains decidedly lacklustre. Italy and Spain are struggling to bounce back, Germany is still languishing, and the UK’s 0.6% service revenue growth is the highlight of the quarter.

Liberty Global’s assets are disappointing both in terms of opening financials (revenues and EBITDA 8% and 12% lower than expected respectively) and outlook (now growing at half the rate at the time of deal announcement and guidance for Germany as a whole to be ‘flattish’).

Vodafone’s guidance for a pickup in revenue growth to more than 1% in Q4 is encouraging but these are very tentative steps forward in challenging times.

European mobile revenues remain decidedly in decline this quarter at -2% – a slight worsening since Q2 as the full force of cuts to intra-EU calls hits 

There are signs that dual-brand strategies may be reaching their useful limit as erstwhile premium customers shift to value

There is scope for some trends to slowly improve from here, although end-of-contract notifications will impact all markets before the end of 2020, with the UK first off the blocks in Q1
 

Vodafone continues to strike a very shareholder-friendly focus and tone but its operating performance remains decidedly muted, with revenue growth up just a touch but EBITDA growth halved

Vodafone’s drive for convergence is still costing it dearly. German mobile ARPU is down 7% and Liberty Global’s assets disappointed on their first consolidation with cashflow enhancement less than half that expected 

Apart from its ill-advised convergence strategy, Vodafone is making many sensible moves and there are indications that its unlimited plans are gaining traction. With leverage tight, pressure is mounting for demonstrable improvements in the financials some time very soon 

European mobile revenue trends are not yet improving. Italy is still flat-lining at almost -10%, Spain worsened again, and the UK deteriorated sharply. France is the only good news story

5G rollouts seem somewhat tentative. Indications from the UK that it is leading to a more competitive environment may discourage European operators from exacerbating already challenging markets

Prior year comparables for Southern Europe will be more flattering in the second half of this year although a doubling in the drag from intra EU calls will dampen any recovery

Vodafone’s newfound focus on performance improvement is showing signs of delivering – more on the cost than revenue side. Tower sharing has the potential to ultimately enhance European cashflow by 10% 

The revenue picture is more mixed with churn improving but a very varied operational picture across its major European markets

Although Vodafone highlights the potential for German cable to drive growth post Liberty Global deal completion, their current 0.4% growth in Germany does not give cause for optimism 

European mobile service revenue growth slipped again to -2.0%; its worst performance in four years

Regulation limiting intra-EU call prices could hit hard next quarter – with the UK likely to be hardest hit by up to 6% of revenues and 20% of EBITDA

Excluding the EU-call impact, we see greatest scope for improving trends in Italy and France thanks to easier comps and diminishing competitive intensity

Vodafone’s operating performance worsened again this quarter with revenues down 3.3% and an extension of its underperformance relative to peers 

Vodafone was right to cut its dividend given the extremity of the cash constraint. With financials in Euro terms in negative territory and worsening, an elevated and progressive dividend was not sustainable 

In spite of difficult market conditions, the lower end of guidance looks achievable as comparables will become easier and football rights costs decline. The transformation programme will need to pay off fast to deliver any meaningful growth
 

European mobile service revenue growth dropped to -1.3% – its lowest level in three years – particularly disappointing as growth should be bouncing back post-EU roaming tariff cuts

Having enjoyed relatively favourable dynamics in 2018, the UK and Germany are facing marked changes in momentum from here

Regulation limiting intra-EU call prices could hit hard – up to 6% of revenues and 20% of EBITDA in the UK, although other EU countries may be less exposed due to lower tariffs currently