Vodafone heading for a fall?

Full-year earnings for Vodafone could be a make-or-break moment for the shares, which currently trade at a heady premium to full-year estimates.

Vodafone has seen its shares rise to the giddy heights of 250p and more over the past three years, while also slumping to the lows of 180p in 2014. Overall, however, they reside at 223p, the same place as in the final quarter of 2014.

At this price they trade at 40 times forward earnings, versus just 14 times for its rival, BT. Essentially, at this level Vodafone is expected to post hefty improvements in its earnings in coming years, in the order of 20% or more, when the current forecast is for earnings to drop 10% for the year to March 2016. Expectations are for earnings to grow 22% in the next year, and 28% the year after that. Such forecasts look ambitious, at best.

One notable bright spot for Vodafone is its mobile payments service. This continues to add users across a variety of geographies, proving that even corporate behemoths can come up with good ideas.

It has also ramped up its coverage network, taking the hit on costs in order to position itself for a future in which customers download more and more data, and want to download it faster and faster.

At their current level, Vodafone shares trade on a dividend yield of 5%. That is not too far above the FTSE 100’s current 4.5%, but the worry for investors will be that earnings for the full year are expected to be 4.7p per share.

With a dividend of around 14p per share, the concern will be that the firm will not only have to abandon its progressive dividend policy, but also cut the payout itself. At that point, even with the possibility of further takeover approaches, the forward earnings multiple looks rather high.

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