Reporting Season

Why Telstra is still the best defensive exposure on the ASX

Thu 15 Feb 24, 4:37pm (AEST)
ReportingSeason Feb24 Telstra Primary
Source: Livewire Markets

Key Points

  • Telstra's first-half results met analyst expectations, with strong performance in mobile and infrastructure services, but its NAS division's underperformance led to a 2% EPS downgrade
  • Despite pressure on the enterprise division, mobile sector growth remains robust, driving earnings and dividend growth forecasts
  • Michael Maughan from Tyndall Asset Management says Telstra's defensive market position and ongoing demand for data make it a buy, though caution is advised due to market multiples exceeding historical averages

Telstra’s (ASX: TLS) upbeat first-half result has been overshadowed by the tightening of its full-year earnings guidance, reflecting the disappointing performance of its Network Applications & Services (NAS) division.

The first-half result was largely in line with analyst expectations, boosted by strong earnings growth across mobile, consumer and infrastructure services but partially offset by a decline across its enterprise division. The stock is down around 1.3%, as of writing.

To understand more about Telstra’s moving pieces, we spoke to Michael Maughan from Tyndall Asset Management, who still believes Telstra offers the best defensive exposure on the market.

Key Financial Results

The below numbers refer to first-half FY24 results and comparisons against the prior period.

  • Revenue +1.1% to $11.4 billion 

  • EBITDA +3.8% to $4.0 billion

  • Net profit after tax +11.5% to $1 billion

  • Underlying ROIC +0.3% to 7.8%

  • Earnings per share +12% to 8.4 cents/share

  • Interim dividend +5.9% to 9 cents/share 

Full-year guidance

  • Narrowed adjusted EBITDA guidance to $8.2 billion to $8.3 billion from prior guidance of $8.2 billion to $8.4 billion

  • Revenue guidance of $22.8 billion to $24.8 billion

  • CAPEX guidance of $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion

1. In one sentence, what was the key takeaway from this result?

Mobile profits have delivered, but Network Applications and Services (NAS) profits have completely evaporated, leading to a 2% EPS downgrade.

2. Were there any major surprises in this result that you think investors should be aware of?

The market was aware that Enterprise was under pressure, but NAS only generated $17 million in EBITDA, whereas the market was anticipating approximately $100 million. 

On a positive note, the mobile sector is thriving with increased subscribers and a 5.4% growth in APRU (average revenue per user). This is the primary driver expected to fuel earnings and dividend growth over the next few years.

3. Would you buy, hold or sell this stock on the back of this result?

Rating: BUY

It offers the best defensive exposure in the market due to its pricing power in an industry where demand for the core product, data, continues to grow. 

In comparison to other defensives, the risks from inflation are lower because people constitute a much smaller part of the cost base, unlike in the retail sector.

2024-02-15 14 12 22-Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX TLS) Share Price - Market Index
Telstra 12-month price chart vs. ASX 200 (Source: Market Index)

4. What’s your outlook on this stock and the sector over the year ahead and are there any risks that investors should be aware of?

The outlook appears positive due to the ongoing demand for data and the focus of all mobile players on improving returns after substantial investments in 5G.

The risks for telcos include irrational competition, technology, and regulation, but currently, these risks are relatively benign.

One aspect the market isn’t on top of is Telstra's investment of $1.6 billion in fibre projects, which won't generate revenue until FY26. Even then, the capacity in these "pipes" will be gradually sold over decades. This value is likely underestimated when considering today’s earnings.

5. From 1-5, where 1 is cheap and 5 is expensive, how much value are you seeing in the market right now? Are you excited or are you cautious on the market in general?

Rating: 3

We're adopting a cautious approach and concentrating on stock selection. Our straightforward perspective is that market multiples are currently above historical averages, and we don't perceive sufficient earnings growth to warrant further increases.

This article first appeared on Livewire Markets.

Don't miss an ASX announcement this reporting season, set up and receive announcements direct to your inbox on Market Index: Create Alert Now

Written By

Kerry Sun

Content Strategist

Kerry holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Monash University. He is an avid swing trader, focused on technical set ups and breakouts. Outside of writing and trading, Kerry is a big UFC fan, loves poker and training Muay Thai. Connect via LinkedIn or email.

Get the latest news and insights direct to your inbox

Subscribe free