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Orange cuts dividend in response to COVID-19

While it has been described as a more palatable ‘adaption’, investors will have to be satisfied with a dividend payment which is 29% lower from French operator group Orange.

Taking the dividend down from €0.70 to €0.50 is perhaps not an unusual move during a global crisis which is walking economies towards recession, though Orange is one of the first major telcos to make the announcement. That said, financial guidance has remained the same for the year.

“Based on currently available information, Orange does not expect a significant deviation from its 2020 objectives, but we are closely monitoring the situation and its developments,” CEO Stéphane Richard said.

“The important role played by the telecoms sector during this crisis to ensure the continued functioning of our economy and society as a whole confirms the strategic character of our activities.”

As part of the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, the upcoming Shareholders’ Meeting will be held behind closed doors, with investors only able to submit votes ahead of the meeting. Postal votes are still allowed, though the management team have encouraged the use of a digital platform or proxy voters.

Holding the meeting behind closed doors should not be surprising, though not been able to ask questions live or propose new resolutions is unusual. This is after all a company which is boasting about its ability to help customers work in real-time remotely, but the same cannot be done for the Shareholders’ Meeting.

Orange should perhaps listen to its own advice as this is incredibly sloppy.

And while it might be logical to assume that more people working remotely would be a benefit to the telcos, the reality is somewhat different; these are businesses which are facing the same financial strain as the rest of the economy.

Thanks to COVID-19, enterprise customers are spending in a different way, scaling back investments on connectivity projects, while roaming revenues have been dented. Research from the Scope group suggests roaming revenues could decline by as much as $25.832 billion globally over the next nine months, though this is a pessimistic forecast.

For telcos who operate in popular tourist destinations, Orange being one of them, this may well create a notable dent in the spreadsheets.

What is worth noting is that financials also rarely match home broadband trends.

Data usage might be surging across Europe thanks to remote working, entertainment streaming, gaming and video conferencing trends, but this does not mean users are upgrading subscriptions. Many subscribers would already be on unlimited data broadband contracts in any case.

The telco industry is not suffering any where near as badly as some, retail or the airlines for instance, but it still has to be careful. The longer the outbreak continues, the further into the future revenues from 5G deployments can be realised. Revenues will continue to be eroded, as has been the trend for the last two decades, but the replacement fortunes are being pushed back.

Although Orange is one of the first to declare a cut to the dividend, it would surprise few if more telcos follow its lead. Investment banks are looking at the likes of BT, Telecom Italia and Telefonica wondering when the announcement of a dividend cut will actually be made. It seems to be a case of when not if for the majority of telcos.


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