CROWN CASTLE INTERNATIONAL, #4396202
CROWN CASTLE INTERNATIONAL FOURTH QUARTER 2010
January 27, 2011, 11:00 AM ET
Chairperson: Jay Brown (Mgmt.)
Operator: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for standing by.
Welcome to the Q4 2010 Earnings conference call. During today’s
presentation, all parties will be in a listen-only mode. Following the
presentation, the conference will be open for questions. If you have a
question, please press the star, followed by the one on your touch-tone
phone. If you’d like to withdraw your question, press the star, followed by
the two. If you are using speaker equipment, please lift the handset before
making your selection. This conference is being recorded today,
Thursday, January 27, 2011.
I would now like to turn the conference over to Fiona McKone, VP of
Finance. Please go ahead, ma’am.
Fiona McKone: Thank you. Good morning, everyone, and thank you all for joining us as
we review our fourth quarter and full year 2010 results. With me on the
call this morning are Ben Moreland, Crown Castle’s Chief Executive
Officer, and Jay Brown, Crown Castle’s Chief Financial Officer. To aid
the discussion, we have posted supplemental materials in the Investors
section of our website at crowncastle.com, which we will discuss
throughout the call this morning.
This conference call will contain forward-looking statements and
information based on management’s current expectations. Although the
Company believes that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking
statements are reasonable, it can give no assurances that such expectations
will prove to have been correct. Such forward-looking statements are
subject to certain risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Information about
the potential factors that could affect the Company’s financial results is
available in the press release and in the Risk Factors section of the
Company’s filings with the SEC. Should one or more of these or other
risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove
incorrect, actual results may vary significantly from those expected. Our
statements are made as of today, January 27, 2011, and we assume no
obligation to update any forward-looking statements, whether as a result
of new information, future events, or otherwise.
In addition, today’s call includes discussions of certain non-GAAP
financial measures including adjusted EBITDA, recurring cash flow, and
recurring cash flow per share. Tables reconciling such non-GAAP
financial measures are available under the Investors section of the
Company’s website at crowncastle.com.
Crown Castle International Page 1 1/27/2011
With that, I’ll turn the call over to Jay.
Jay Brown: Thank you, Fiona, and good morning, everyone. We had a great 2010 and
are excited about the ongoing deployment of wireless data networks and
the expected resulting benefits to our business. Let me quickly summarize
some of our accomplishments, and then I’ll take you through some greater
Throughout 2010, we consistently delivered results above our original
expectations, and we ended 2010 delivering another very good quarter of
results. For the full year, we posted site rental revenue growth of 10%,
site rental gross margin and services gross margin growth of 14% and
29%, respectively, adjusted EBITDA growth of 16% and recurring cash
flow per share growth of 22% compared to 2009. Each of these was
considerably above our expectations as we ended 2009. In addition, we
have settled all of our remaining forward-starting interest rate swaps and
go into 2011 positioned to continue to invest in activities we believe will
enhance long-term recurring cash flow per share.
With that, let me turn to slide four as I highlight some of the results for the
fourth quarter and full year 2010. During the fourth quarter, we generated
site rental revenue of 447 million, up 11% from the fourth quarter of 2009.
Site rental gross margin, defined as site rental revenues less cost of
operations, was 325 million, up 15% from the fourth quarter of 2009.
Adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter of 2010 was 311 million, up 18%
from the fourth quarter of 2009.
It is important to note that these growth rates were achieved almost
entirely through organic growth on assets we owned as of October 1st,
2009, as revenue growth from acquisitions was negligible. On slide five,
recurring cash flow, defined as adjusted EBITDA less interest expense
less sustaining capital expenditures, was 176 million, up 33% from the
fourth quarter of 2009; and recurring cash flow per share was $0.61, also
up 33% from the fourth quarter of 2009.
Also during the fourth quarter, we invested 106 million, as illustrated on
slide six, including 80 million on capital expenditures. These capital
expenditures included 32 million on our land lease purchase program.
During 2010, we extended over 1,100 land leases and purchased land
beneath over 500 of our towers. As of today, we own or control for more
than 20 years the land beneath towers representing approximately 70% of
our gross margin. In fact, today 34% of our site rental gross margin is
generated from towers on land that we own. Further, the average term
remaining on our ground leases is approximately 30 years. Having
completed over 9,000 transactions, we believe this activity has resulted in
the most secure land position in the industry based on land ownership and
final ground lease expiration. We continue to believe that this is an
important endeavor that provides a long-term benefit as it protects our
margins and controls our largest operating expense.
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Of the remaining capital expenditures, we spent 9.8 million on sustaining
capital expenditures and 38 million on revenue-generating capital
expenditures, the latter consisting of 26.4 million on existing sites and
11.6 million on the construction of new sites. Further, during the fourth
quarter, we purchased $12.7 million worth of our common shares. Since
2003, we have spent $2.4 billion to purchase approximately 92.6 million
of our common shares and potential shares at an average price of $25.65
Also during the fourth quarter, we spent $431 million to settle the
remaining notional 2.9 billion of forward-starting interest rate swaps that
were due to be cash settled in 2011. Given that we refinanced the tower
revenue notes in 2010, we no longer had refinancing exposure to interest
rate variability, and as such, we felt it was prudent to settle the swaps in
the fourth quarter. I should note that the LIBOR forward rate at which we
settled the swaps was comparable to the LIBOR forward rate at the time
we refinanced the tower revenue notes in August 2010.
We ended 2010 with total net debt to last quarter annualized adjusted
EBITDA of 5.4 times, and adjusted EBITDA to cash interest expense of
3.1 times. For the full year 2010, as illustrated on slides seven and eight
of the presentation, site rental revenues were approximately 1.7 billion, up
10% from full year 2009. Site rental gross margin grew 14% from full
year 2009 to 1.2 billion. Adjusted EBITDA for the full year 2010 was
$1.2 billion, up 16% from the full year of 2009. Recurring cash flow was
$657 million, up 22% from the full year 2009, and recurring cash flow per
share also increased 22% from full year 2009 to $2.29 per share for the
full year 2010.
I would note that, due to our rigorous control on costs in 2010, well over
90% of the growth in site rental revenue found its way to site rental gross
margin and adjusted EBITDA; and while we are only a month into 2011,
we are seeing encouraging signs of continued growth, fueled largely by
carriers overlaying 4G networks, further reiterating what I said on our last
earnings call, our outlook for site rental revenue has only a minimal
benefit from leasing activities from emerging carriers that are dependent
on securing future funding. Having said that, I do believe that these
emerging carriers represent the best opportunity for us to outperform our
expectations during 2011 and believe that this potential opportunity is
most likely to manifest itself in the second half of the year.
On that note, moving to the outlook for the first quarter 2011, as shown on
slide nine, we expect site rental revenue growth of 10% from the first
quarter 2010 to first quarter 2011, and recurring cash flow growth of 18%.
We expect site rental revenue of between 445 and 450 million and
adjusted EBITDA of between 305 and 310 million for the first quarter
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The sequential growth in adjusted EBITDA between the fourth quarter
2010 and our outlook for the first quarter 2011 is impacted by the
following items: There is always some seasonality, it seems, with the
services business that typically results in lower services margin in the first
quarter. To that end, we expect the contribution from services margin in
the first quarter 2011 to be approximately $7 million less than what we
experienced in the fourth quarter of 2010. Our expectation for the services
margin in the first quarter of 2011 is about what we generated in the first
quarter of last year.
Second, the Australian dollar to U.S. dollar exchange ratio has moved
favorably for us since we announced our full-year 2011 outlook in
October 2010. Since we have not changed our assumption for the
Australian exchange rate throughout 2011, we have approximately
$6 million of potential upside to adjusted EBITDA if rates were to remain
at the current level. Finally, several other non-recurring items positively
impacted adjusted EBITDA by approximately $1 million.
Moving to full-year 2011 outlook, as outlined on slides 10 and 11, we
expect site rental revenue growth in 2011 of approximately $125 million,
comprised of approximately 2% growth in the existing base of business
and a little less than 6% growth from the expected additional tenant
equipment to be added to our sites; and we expect recurring cash flow
growth of approximately 11% and would expect to augment this growth
through the opportunistic investment of cash flow and activities such as
share purchases, tower acquisitions, and additional site construction and
As shown on slide 11, we expect to generate approximately 730 million of
recurring cash flow and invest approximately 275 million on capital
expenditures related to the purchases of land beneath our towers, the
addition of tenants to our towers, and the construction of new sites,
particularly distributed antennae systems. The remaining portion of the
recurring cash flow represents nearly $115 million per quarter of cash
flow that we could invest in activities related to our core business,
including reducing common shares outstanding and acquisitions. This
capacity obviously ignores our financing capacity.
Consistent with our past practice, we are focused on investing our cash in
activities we believe will maximize long-term recurring cash flow per
share, which we believe is the best long-term measure of shareholder
value creation. I believe that this level of capital investment can add
between 4% and 6% to our organic recurring cash flow per share growth
rate annually. In total, absent any capital raising activities, we expect our
total investment capacity to be over $1 billion for 2011.
In summary, we had a terrific 2010 with a number of significant
accomplishments, and I’m very excited about 2011 as we continue to
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execute around our core business and allocate capital to enhance long-term
recurring cash flow per share.
With that, I’m happy to turn the call over to Ben.
Benjamin Moreland: Thank you for joining us this morning. I want to take a couple of minutes
to reflect on the tremendous year that we had on a number of fronts. As
Jay just mentioned, we had an excellent fourth quarter and finished the
year very strong, growing site rental revenue and recurring cash flow by
10% and 22%, respectively. In addition to a strong year of site leasing,
our U.S. services business performed exceptionally well due to the
increased take rate on the part of our customers. Service revenues were up
25% and service margins were up 29% compared to the full year of 2009.
This success results from a diligent effort to capture more of the
opportunities assisting our customers in locating or upgrading installations
on our sites. This increase in services activity is attributable to the
confidence our customers have shown in Crown Castle, as regularly
expressed in our customer surveys that consistently rank us as delivering
the highest customer satisfaction in the industry.
Second, we closed on the acquisition of the NewPath Networks
transaction, one of the leading providers of distributed antenna systems, or
DAS networks, furthering our ability to extend wireless infrastructure for
customers beyond those areas served by traditional towers and broadening
our service offering in this growing market.
Third, we completed our refinancing activities during 2010 with an
outcome that we are very proud of and that clearly surpassed our
expectations when we started the refinancings in early 2009.
As Jay mentioned, our 2011 outlook for recurring cash flow growth is
11% before external investment or share purchases, and I’m excited to
return to enhancing our growth with opportunistic investments such as
share purchases, tower acquisitions, DAS opportunities, and land
purchases that we believe are accretive to long-term recurring cash flow
Reflecting on last year, I recall mentioning a stretch goal on the second
quarter call, growing recurring cash flow per share by 20% for the year.
I’m very pleased that we exceeded that goal for 2010, and you can rest
assured that we have similar stretch targets for 2011.
There are a lot of positive dynamics in the wireless industry which
continue to create an opportunity to post these types of strong operating
results and continue to make us excited about our business. The growth in
the broader wireless and mobile Internet markets continues unabated as
consumers continue to embrace new wireless devices and carriers
accelerate their plans to deploy 4G networks. We are witnessing a mobile
Internet revolution and our assets are an essential component of our carrier
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customers delivering on the promise of this technology. As can be seen
from the recent carrier results, the delivery of these data services to
consumers is the future of wireless and represents profitable growth for
On that note, I’d like to draw your attention to some important trends that
continue to drive our business. On a macro level during the first half of
2010, one in every four adults lived in a wireless-only household. That
compares to one in five adults in the first half of 2009, and one in eight
adults from the first half of 2008, so doubling the wireless-only
households in just two years. Further, more than half of adults aged 25 to
29 lived in households with only wireless phones. This is the first time the
number of adults in wireless-only households has exceeded the number of
adults in landline households in any age group.
The provision of data services is the most significant driver of growth for
our business as adoption rates for data-enabled devices continue to grow.
The number of devices with three or more wireless transmitters or
receivers, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular, has increased more than
seven times since just 2008, from 7% of total devices in 2008 to more than
50% today. Smartphone penetration was approximately 30% at the end of
last year and is widely expected to surpass 50% by the end of this year,
and they obviously dominate new sales. Access to the Internet by mobile
devices is on a strong upward trend, and according to a report by the Pew
Research Center, 59% of Americans accessed the Internet on their phones
last year, up from 25% the previous year. In fact, Gartner believes that by
2013, the number of smartphones will surpass the number of PCs globally,
and that is not counting tablets.
It’s important to note that while the penetration rate of data-centric devices
is impressive, it also represents considerable upside to come. At the recent
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, more than 80 tablets were
introduced and 2011 was coined the “Year of the Tablet.” Tablets are
forecasted to grow as fast or faster than MP3 players. According to
Barclays, tablet units will top 38 million in 2011 versus 15 million in
2010, and are expected to grow to an estimated 82 million units by 2015.
Undoubtedly, the proliferation of all these data-enabled devices will
significantly increase the load on wireless networks and, therefore,
demand for our assets.
Aside from tablets, another dominant theme for 2011 is 4G deployment.
We have seen the importance of this over the past few months, with recent
news releases from carriers outlining their 4G deployment plans for 2011.
AT&T, which has completed its deployment of HSPA+ to almost 100%
of its network, plans to launch LTE service in the middle of 2011,
covering between 70 and 75 million POPS by year end and be largely
completed by 2013 and is accelerating this build-out as we speak.
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Verizon, which has already launched LTE service covering 100 million
POPS, plans to double that coverage over the next 18 months and blanket
the country in the next three years. In 2011 alone, the carrier will add over
140 additional markets to the 38 it has in operation today.
T-Mobile plans to double the speed of its 4G network to HSPA+ 42 and
provide coverage on the faster network to 140 million Americans in 25
markets by the middle of this year. Others, notably Clearwire and
LightSquared, are in the earlier stages of deployment, with attractive
spectrum assets and business plans that are promising.
Based on announcements by the major carriers, there will be over 50 4G
devices available to consumers by the end of 2011. These statistics are
why we remain focused on the U.S. market, the largest, fastest-growing
and most profitable market by every measure in the world. With the
demand for data services concentrated disproportionately in the major
cities, we are best positioned to capture this opportunity with the highest
concentration of sites in the top 100 markets and industry-leading
So to summarize, we had a great 2010. We accomplished a number of
operational and financial objectives. While we are less than a month into
2011, we are excited about the growth we see in revenue and recurring
cash flow per share prospectively for 2011, and in addition, we are
optimistic about the potential upside from emerging carriers and the
benefit from the investment of our recurring cash flow. Finally, we are
very excited to be participating in an essential component of the growth in
mobile Internet. It’s a fun place to operate right now.
With that, Operator, I would like to turn the call over for questions.
Operator: Thank you, sir. We will now begin the question and answer session. As a
reminder, if you have a question, please press the star, followed by the one
on your touch-tone phone. If you would like to withdraw your question,
press the star, followed by the two. If you are using speaker equipment,
you will need to lift the handset before making your selection.
And our first question comes from the line of Jason Armstrong with
Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.
Jason Armstrong: Hey, thanks. Good morning. Maybe a couple questions, first on
deleveraging. You talked about building up the investment capacity and
what you can do with that capacity, but as you said, I think that will be
about the financing capacity in the business, so capital raises on
incremental EBITDA, and I’m just wondering how we should think about
that over the course of the year. Is there an intention to exercise
incremental financial capacity, or should we expect you, sort of over the
course of the year, to delever the business as EBITDA grows?
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And then maybe just a second question on the pacing of 4G upgrades.
You guys obviously laid out a pretty compelling case around what some of
the big guys are doing. I’m just wondering if, for a company like Verizon
or AT&T may be in a different boat given some lease modifications, but
for those type of companies, is there a sequencing where the first layer of
tower amendments they sort of go to their own first and then maybe the
second layer is to go to towers they can upgrade more cheaply, and then
the next layer gets more expensive for them. Just wondering how to think
about the pace of 4G and actually what it means to you guys. It seems like
there could be an uptick.
Jay Brown: Sure, Jason, good morning. I’ll take the first question and then Ben will
take the second one. I think what you should expect is the path that we’ve
been on now for the better course of the year. I think what you’ll see us
do is take the cash flow that we’re producing in the business and invest
that cash flow in some of the activities that I mentioned, be those share
purchases, tower acquisitions, maybe increasing the amount looking for
opportunities around the distributed antenna system, and potentially even
some more land purchases.
I think as we think about the capacity that we’re creating on the balance
sheet, I don’t expect us to take any of our cash flow and pay down debt,
but I wouldn’t necessarily expect us to go out in just in normal course,
borrow more money to relever the business. So I think we’ll trend
towards about a five times debt to EBITDA ratio. At that point, and I
would say even this today, as we look at acquisitions and assets, I think
we’re certainly comfortable keeping a similar level of leverage on the
acquisition that we would undertake, so certainly there’s significant
amount of capacity there as we start to look at larger acquisitions.
I think we’ve talked about this in the past when we talk about leverage. I
think it’s a balance that we’re trying to strike here, both in terms of giving
ourselves a little bit more headroom so that we have some capacity if
there’s an acquisition that we really want to do, that we can go and access
the market. Obviously, at over three turns of adjusted EBITDA to cash
interest expense coverage, we’re well above anything we need to do in
terms of leverage ratios and covenants, as well as comfort running the
business. So, we might see it tick up a little bit in order for us to win an
acquisition if we were interested in doing it, but I wouldn’t suggest that
you should expect to see us add nominal levels of debt apart from an
acquisition, and I think we’ll just delever in normal course, which is
working out to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about a half a turn to
three quarters of a turn per year.
So by the end of 2011, I think we’re at about five times, and if we’re
growing EBITDA, as our guidance would suggest, somewhere in the
neighborhood of $80 to $100 million a year, we’d maintain that level of
leverage on the business, that’s another $500 million of cash flow. So the
combination of taking the $730 million a year of cash flow that’s growing,
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plus the investment of maintaining leverage in and around five times,
should put our ongoing capacity somewhere in the neighborhood of
$1 billion to $1.2 billion in the years forward. So hopefully that’s helpful
as you think about modeling over a longer term.
Jason Armstrong: Yes, it’s definitely helpful. Can you remind us what the sort of threshold
would be for the right deal, the deleverage threshold that you’d consider?
Jay Brown: Well, I think our going-in assumption would be to look at it in terms of
somewhere in the neighborhood of about five times. But I think we are
and have been, given the way we’ve run the business over time, if there
was a different growth characteristic of an acquisition relative to the way
our growth rates look in our business, we might be willing to take on a
little bit more leverage to do it. I think that’s probably in and around the
range of maybe a turn at the most beyond that five turns; but I don’t want
to pin myself down to the point of saying under no circumstances would
we be interested in taking on a little bit more leverage. I just think in
normal course what you’re going to see us do is operate in and around the
And then following any acquisition that we did, if we decided to take the
leverage ratio up associated with an acquisition, I think you would, after
that point, see us again go back to operating and allowing the business to
naturally delever, not using cash flow to pay down debt but the growth in
EBITDA to naturally delever against the set nominal level of indebtedness
and move back towards that five turns ratio.
Benjamin Moreland: Jason, just on your second question in terms of the pacing of 4G
deployments, I would observe that the normal pattern that we saw with 3G
continues to hold, which is typically the carriers will roll out a market and
then very quickly come back and do infill sites to deepen their penetration
in that market and the density and the capacity of the network as the
consumer load grows. And then you also see amendments on the existing
sites as well. So it’s directly related to the consumer take-up, ultimately,
and we’re still in the very early days of this. But early expectations would
be that we’re going to see a very similar pattern of somewhat of a thin
launch and then a continual enhancement of the networks in the existing
cities, as well as obviously continuing to launch additional markets.
Jason Armstrong: And does infill mean more to you than sort of the initial thin build, i.e. the
thin build goes for sort of the cheapest cost build, which is there own sites
or where they’ve got capacity on existing sites, and then infill might mean
Benjamin Moreland: Well, I think with any of the carriers today, the number of towers that they
own is a small fraction of their overall network. And so any time a carrier
is doing something in a major market, it’s a significant opportunity for us
in that market. So I’m not certain that they actually can prioritize their
own sites. Now obviously, they hit their own sites when they can, of
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course; but that’s a small fraction of any of their overall networks, and so I
don’t think that’s a real material component. It’s obviously a location-
based business and, given our exposure in the top markets, we see a lot of
activity whether it’s the initial overlay or the follow-on infill build.
Jason Armstrong: Great. Thanks, guys.
Benjamin Moreland: Sure.
Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Jonathan Atkin with
RBC Capital Markets. Please go ahead.
Jonathan Atkin: Yes, good morning. A few questions. First of all, on the services
business, I wondered if you can give us a flavor for whether we’re
trending towards further growth or kind of a similar rate as we saw in
2010 in terms of just the volume of business as well as the margin. And
then on the capex, I wondered what the rough expectations might be for
revenue-generating capex at existing sites. I noticed it was down about
20% compared to 2009, and are we going to kind of stay at these levels or
might it decline further?
Benjamin Moreland: Sure, John. On services, we are extremely pleased with the results that
we’ve delivered over the last, really as it has grown over the last three
years. In the last two years, in many markets, we have doubled our take
rate and I should say in many regions of the country, more than doubled
our take rate in terms of opportunities when a carrier is improving through
an amendment or going on a new site, the opportunities where we capture
that opportunity to install that and manage that business for them. That
business has continued to grow. I am always, as you know, for years
listen to us talk about this, always reticent to forecast that continuing to
grow because, at some level, you sort of get to the point where you’re
doing about all you can.
And so, as you saw from our guidance for 2011, we implicitly took that
down, although we don’t give you service revenue and margin guidance
directly. I think we were clear that we implicitly would guide lower or
have expectations lower beginning in the year than we delivered last year,
and we’ve been very fortunate to exceed that over the last few years. But
there will come a year where that is flat and you don’t continue to grow
that on the same set of assets, and so that’s the way I would encourage all
of you to think about it.
One other piece that’s an ancillary benefit to that is, obviously, it gets us
closer to our customers. It retains control of the improvements and
consistency on our own towers, and so there is some definite operational
benefits and, I would say, marketing and business benefits to being in this
business, and it’s not directly—you can’t see it necessarily in the financial
statements. So we’re very interested in continuing that activity, but you
should not continue to expect it to just grow year over year on out. I
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would say we forecast it flat to down on any given year, and hopefully
surprise ourselves on the upside.
On capex, on improvement capex, Jay, you want to take that?
Jay Brown: Yes, John, on that question what I would say and maybe it’s helpful to just
kind of go through the total amount that I talked about for 2011, the
$275 million. I think we’ll probably spend somewhere in the
neighborhood of about $150 on land purchases for the full year. We’ll
spend about the same level we expect for revenue-generating capex on our
existing sites, keeping in mind that’s the capex that we spend basically to
add additional tenants to our existing sites. It may be up $10 million or so
but in and around the same level as we spent in 2010. And then the last
meaningful component there is the amount that we’ll spend on new sites,
and we’re hoping to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 to
$50 million. The vast majority of that will be on distributed antenna
Jonathan Atkin: Great, thank you. And then real quick on the services on the margin side,
any trend there to kind of think about, or should we take kind of the
average of the past several quarters as sort of a jumping off point?
Benjamin Moreland: I think that’s fair.
Jonathan Atkin: And then with respect to the master lease agreements that you discussed
on the last call related to 4G activities at a particular customer, any
possibility that there might be additional such agreements this year?
Benjamin Moreland: None that I’m aware of and certainly wouldn’t talk about it by name if I
could, but we’re very pleased with the agreement we’d struck and we
described on the last quarter call. I think some of you might ask, would
you do another one? Certainly, on the right terms. And we don’t have
anything brewing of that type at the moment.
Jonathan Atkin: Thank you very much.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of David Barden with Bank of
America Merrill Lynch. Please go ahead.
David Barden: Hey, guys. Thanks for taking the question. Maybe just two, if I could.
Just jumping off that last point, Jay, could you maybe elaborate a little bit
on how the AT&T agreement is changing the 2011 outlook relative to
2010 in terms of maybe growth in margin, meaning if you hadn’t signed
that agreement, how different do these forward-looking numbers look than
they would otherwise have looked?
And then I guess the second question is, obviously, towards the end of last
year we had a little bit of a lull in terms of momentum for guys like
LightSquared and Clearwire, and Sprint was obviously still kind of idle
Crown Castle International Page 11 1/27/2011
most of last year. But we’ve seen kind of a resurrection a little bit.
LightSquared has new life breathed into it because of the regulations or
the approvals they got on spectrum; Clearwire raised $1 billion; Sprint’s
kind of laying out a network update program. Is there any sense that that
stuff is kind of moving yet? What have you baked for that expectations
for those kinds of issues into your forward numbers? Thanks.
Jay Brown: Sure. I think, relative to your first question in terms of the outlook and the
customer contract that we announced last quarter and what the impact that
has in our outlook, as we talked about it, we did a transaction with one of
the major carriers in the U.S. and it was related to amendment activity on
sites that they were already on, for which they paid us what we believe to
be a healthy and appropriately priced amount for the amendments as they
rolled out 4G.
The impact that that has, and let’s just go up to 40,000 feet and talk about
the drivers of revenue growth for a second. As I talked about in my
comments, we think from 2010 to 2011, total revenue growth is around
8%, and 2% of that is coming off of the existing base of business net of
any churn that happens in the business, and then a little less than 6% is
coming from organic growth. If you get a little bit more granular in the
organic growth drivers, about 30% to 40% in any given year of the organic
growth—that 6% number that I’m speaking about—about 30% to 40% of
that comes from amendment activity, generally, and then the remaining
60% to 70% comes from brand new tenants being installed on those
So the impact to the outlook would be around that 30% to 40% of
amendment activity from one of the carriers. Presumably, and we would
expect this in our outlook, we’ll continue to get additional revenues from
the other carriers that we’ve not done a similar deal with. So the impact,
frankly, is relatively muted. If you’re trying to figure out, okay, what
would the growth rate have been if we hadn’t done that, it’s relatively
muted. Obviously, we already got most of that in the run rate.
I think with regards to your second question and the momentum change,
certainly as we have talked about in past calls, the slowdown we really
saw from the emerging carriers started in late summertime of 2010, and
we really haven’t seen a pickup in that activity yet. As I referenced in my
prepared remarks, we think that there is potential for upside from them but
that’s probably towards the latter half of 2011 as they continue to work on
deployment plans and the next phase of their build-outs. You referenced
the LightSquared announcement that they made, and their intention
certainly, as they’ve stated publicly, to get out and get three test markets
launched in the third quarter of this year as well as build out 100 million
POPS by the end of 2012. We’ll obviously be working hard to satisfy that
customer’s demand as they focus on the market.
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But I think at this point, the visibility that we have towards that is
relatively limited, which is why we have really a minimal impact in our
outlook for 2011 from those emerging carriers. And we’ll just kind of
have to see how the year develops.
David Barden: And if you can on just the Sprint side of it, has anything been actually
happening towards their modernization program? Presumably they would
have to engage you early in that process.
Benjamin Moreland: Sure, and they’ve been public in their discussion around their vision
project, and we’re involved in conversations with them, David, and are
quite pleased with where that’s going. You know, we don’t ultimately
discuss specific contract details with you and divulge that in terms of
customers, but we’re quite pleased with what we see and believe that the
configuration that they want to put up will certainly add efficiency to their
network, capacity to their network. It will also result in additional revenue
for us, and that’s where we’re headed.
Along with that, just to probably answer your next question or maybe
someone else’s, they have an acknowledged desire to have flexibility
around the iDEN sites. They somewhat have that anyway because the
average life on the remaining iDEN leases is sort of in the three to four-
year range anyway, which somewhat conforms to their expectations of
when they might want to decommission or repurchase those sites. And so
they’ll gain that flexibility that they effectively already have through some
kind of agreement we would contemplate moving forward with them.
But if you think about the additional charge for the configuration at the
CDMA site, we think it’s about a push net-net when you wash through the
configuration charge and the churn, that flexibility that they would have.
Obviously to the extent that they don’t ultimately use the churn flexibility
and repurpose those sites for CDMA purposes, well then obviously we
wouldn’t see that negative impact.
David Barden: All right. That’s great, Ben. Thanks.
Benjamin Moreland: You bet.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Richard Prentiss with Raymond
James. Please go ahead.
Richard Prentiss: Thanks. Good morning, guys. Can you hear me okay?
Benjamin Moreland: Yes.
Richard Prentiss: Okay. Hey, I just wanted to follow up on maybe some of the guidance
comments earlier. So I think, first we heard, I think, the Aussie FX would
be an upside if it continues to stay at the same level, so you’ve not updated
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guidance for FX of about $6 million potential upside. Is that what I
Benjamin Moreland: Right.
Jay Brown: That’s correct, Rick. It’s about $6 million at the EBITDA line and a little
over $8 million at the site rental revenue line.
Richard Prentiss: Okay. Second question is, historically—actually been doing this way too
long, I guess, but at least for the last four years you guys have not
historically raised guidance on this fourth quarter call timeframe. But I
think on the first, second and third quarter calls, like, 10 out of the last 12
of those calls you’ve raised guidance. What we’re hearing today from you
about the best ability to outperform the second half of the emerging
carriers, does that mean we shouldn’t be expecting that typical kind of
you’ve left some in the kit bag to raise guidance as we go through
Jay Brown: Rick, I think you’ve correctly noted that our business has performed very
well over the last several years, and we’ll just have to get into the year and
see. Obviously, the carriers, as they roll out their budgets at the beginning
of any calendar year and start to work on what markets they going to
deploy and how they’re going to do that, we’ll start to see some of that and
the carriers will have those budgets probably laid out by market towards
the latter half of the first quarter. And we’ll just have to see how it goes.
As we get into the balance of the year, there are certainly a number of
positives, as Ben was mentioning in his prepared remarks, in the broader
environment. All of those look like upside. The timing of which those
will impact us, I think your guess is probably as good as ours at this point.
So we’ll see how the year develops.
Richard Prentiss: Okay. And then just definitionally on your recurring free cash flow, since
you’ve settled the swaps in 2010, you’ve still got some amortization, I
think, in the guidance, or significant non-cash in the interest expense line.
Can you just talk through that? I think as more and more real estate
investors start looking at the space, they focus a lot on cash interest and on
what AFFO would be looking at.
Jay Brown: You’re right, Rick; and we’ve got in the guidance for the full year 2011
approximately $103 million of non-cash interest expense. The majority of
that would be the amortization of the swaps that we’ve already settled, so
obviously they were cash at one point. But in the forward numbers, we
don’t have any other cash liabilities associated with that. So I think what
we have done when we picked this recurring cash flow per share metric—
and I realize some like to look at it different ways—but we picked the
metric because we thought that it was the best predictor of what ultimately
an FFO-like per share metric would look like in our business. And so, as
we look out four, five, six, seven years from now at the time at which
we’re looking at REIT conversion, somewhere in the neighborhood of the
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2015, 2016 timeframe when our NOLs expire, we think RCF per share is a
pretty good metric to give an indication to investors as to how much cash
is available to be distributed to shareholders, be that through the form of
share buybacks or dividend payments.
And so I think if we proceed and I’ve had a number of investors ask me
whether or not we will convert to some sort of FFO metric over time, I’m
certainly not opposed to that. And I think the other thing I would mention
is, to the extent that you want to try to narrow down and see exactly kind
of where the cash is coming out of the business and how it moves from
quarter to quarter, obviously I think the best place to see that is in the cash
flow from operating activities statement that we provide in the press
release, which is really pretty close to where our RCF per share metric is.
But I would continue to just encourage people to look at that RCF per
share metric as it sort of takes into account all of the non-cash items, both
moving for us and against us, and the net number there is real close to
what actual cash coming out of the business is.
Richard Prentiss: But if the interest expense has about $100 million worth of non-cash, does
that mean the operating lines have the counterbalancing effect of that?
Jay Brown: That would be true.
Richard Prentiss: Okay. And then on fourth quarter, a little bit higher SG&A and little bit
lower tower cash flow margins than we’ve seen. Anything seasonally
going on there?
Jay Brown: No, nothing out of the normal.
Richard Prentiss: Okay, great. Thanks, guys.
Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Michael Rollins
with Citigroup. Please go ahead.
Michael Rollins: Thanks for taking the question. You know, if you look at all the leases
that you’ve extended and the land that you’ve bought, how should we
think about the growth in cost per tower now that you’ve secured more of
these agreements over time? Thanks.
Jay Brown: Yes, Mike, that’s a great question and one of the primary reasons that we
are pretty excited about the efforts that we’ve undertaken on our land
leases. If you look at the income statement, the largest expense line item
that we have is interest expense. We just talked about that with Rick and
there’s about $400 million of cash interest expense in the business.
Virtually all of that is fixed rate debt, with an average maturity of about
eight years, so I wouldn’t expect that number to move around much for the
next seven to eight years. The next largest expense line item is ground
lease expense, which is $300 million of our expenses; and the normal
escalations in a ground lease, like our revenue side, is about 3% to 4% per
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year. Now, much of that is fixed escalators and so we straight-line that
over a long period of time. You don’t see in any given lease a movement
as much from year to year, but as the portfolio rolls or it goes into a new
term, you get a step-up in that expense that would be above cash, and then
it goes back towards cash over time.
So what I think we would say about this, given the number of transactions
that we’ve done, longer term I think we feel pretty good that we can
maintain total operating cost—direct operating costs from the tower—on
the tower line somewhere in the neighborhood south of about 3% growth
per year. And we’re starting to feel really comfortable, given the amount
of transactions that we’ve done on the land lease side, that there aren’t a
lot of leases left that we would expect a meaningful step in rent that would
cause that number to change by any significant amount.
So it gives us a lot more certainty around being able to model operating
expenses over a long period of time, and I think I would say, continue to
model it somewhere in the neighborhood of 2% to 3% growth on land
lease, and the other operating expenses probably grow at about 3% per
Michael Rollins: Thanks. That’s very helpful.
Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of James Ratcliffe with
Barclays Capital. Please go ahead.
James Ratcliffe: Good morning, guys. Thanks for taking the question. Two, I guess,
reasonably broad ones related to M&A. I mean, clearly other than
NewPath, you haven’t bought anything in about two and a half years, and
it sounds like the last time we talked that you’re kind of on the same path.
Are you seeing any changes in relative valuations that make acquiring
towers versus construction or other uses of capital more appealing?
And secondly, when you look at potential assets, do you have a general
view on the relative appeal of towers that were built to be multi-tenant,
third party tower company towers versus towers that are part of carrier
Benjamin Moreland: James, sure, let me take a crack at that. On the M&A side, I don’t know
that we’ve seen enough significantly sized transactions to have an updated
view on valuation, about whether it’s changed up or down. Obviously,
there’s facts and circumstances around each individual transaction you’ll
look at, how occupied the sites are, how many tenants per tower there are,
which tend to drive—obviously the fewer tenants per tower, the lower
revenue or margins per tower; the higher expected multiple just as a
general rule with the expectation of adding revenue and bringing that
multiple back down obviously less per tower and the price. And the
converse is also true; the higher occupied sites would typically have a
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lower multiple. But I’m not sure we’ve seen anything of any size lately
that would give us an opinion whether that’s moved dramatically.
In terms of our interest in looking at something of any size, absolutely we
have an interest and we’ve got plenty of financing capacity, and we’ll do
what we’ve always done, which is take a very hard look at something and
see if we think it adds value to the firm long term compared to alternatives
that we have. We don’t necessarily have a bias about whether you’re
buying carrier towers or you’re buying sort of, as you say, tower company
multi-tenant towers. For the most part, virtually everything that’s been
built in the last seven or eight years, whether it’s by carriers or by the
tower companies, have been multi-tenant capable. What’s most important
are the locations, and so we’ll do a very thorough scrub of the location of a
prospective acquisition to try to make a determination around leasing and
what that upside looks like relative to our other alternatives, including
buying our own stock for our own towers, as we’ve talked about for years.
And so that’s really how we’ll look at it. We have an active interest. We
have an active team looking in the market, and we expect you’ll see more
to come there.
James Ratcliffe: Great. Thank you.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Simon Flannery with Morgan
Stanley. Please go ahead.
Simon Flannery: Okay, thanks a lot. Good morning. Just to follow up on the tower
acquisition point, your other colleagues in the tower space have been
pretty active on the international scene recently. You stayed away from
that for a while. Any sort of update in your viewpoint on that, given some
of the opportunities there? And then you’ve talked about DAS a few
times today. Perhaps you could just give us an update on NewPath and
what some of the trends you’re seeing in demand on that side are?
Benjamin Moreland: Sure. Simon, I don’t have anything new to report on international other
than to tell you that we do continue to look at other transactions
internationally, if for no other reason, to stay educated and to confirm our
view that we are very pleased in the two large markets that we currently
operate, the U.S. and Australia. So I don’t have anything to share with
you there, although as I always say, we will never foreclose that notion,
and if we see something we want to do, we’ll certainly do it. You know,
risk adjusted returns are very important to us.
On the DAS front, we’re very pleased with what we see. The team there
is very busy. We’ve integrated our own DAS team into the NewPath
organization, call it the Crown DAS organization today. There are about
45 individuals there that are going very hard. We’re working hard to
leverage our own tower sales force into that business and are very pleased
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with the pipeline we see developing there, and the willingness of carriers
to undertake the DAS architecture as the right solution for areas that you
need more capacity than you can ultimately get with maybe a distant
macro site, a tower site, where you can’t otherwise locate a tower site
closer. And we see a very large pipeline there.
I have said before and I’ll say again, and this is something of a challenge
to our team, we hope and expect that we can add sort of one percentage
point to our revenue growth from that business for a while, which is not
insignificant for something as small as it is to start with; and from there,
we’ll see where it goes. But we’re pleased up front with what we see.
Simon Flannery: Thank you.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Jonathan Schildkraut with
Evercore Partners. Please go ahead.
Jonathan Schildkraut: Great. Thank you for fitting me in here. Just kind of two questions. First,
focus on the incremental margins on revenue growth. You know, in the
last couple of years, you guys have been very high. I guess it’s a lot to do
with integrating some of the portfolios that you’d previously acquired. As
I look into 2011 expectations, it looks like maybe 400 basis points less, or
maybe 93% last year, maybe 89%-ish in 2011 based on expectations. Is
there something going on there that we should understand?
And the second question is, you’ve been driving down your G&A cost as a
percent of your total revenue over the last few years. Movement has been
100 basis points or more, and I was wondering what’s left there and
whether that could continue to decline? Thank you.
Jay Brown: Yes, thanks for the question. It really is remarkable in the business to
continue to be able to produce over 90% incremental margins, and we’ve
done that through a combination of revenue growth and the amount of
revenue growth that we’ve had is really helpful in that, back to my prior
comments with land lease expense going up contractually, somewhere in
the neighborhood of 2 to 3% per year. And I think what we do when we
give our initial outlook is what we believe for the year, and then we work
really hard on the cost side to try and hold it lower than that. So
somewhere in the neighborhood—I think the guidance, as you mentioned,
is 89% incremental margins, and we’re doing everything we can to push
those through 90 and make them as high as we possibly can.
Appreciate the comment on G&A, and you’re right. We have held our
cash G&A expense flat to down over the last several years and are
continuing to look for opportunities to do that and continue to manage
that. I think as a percentage of revenue, we would expect that G&A will
continue to fall as a percent of overall revenues as we grow revenues and
also as we look to sort of hold that cost in and around the level that we are
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Benjamin Moreland: I would just add, for those on the operating side or maybe interested in our
back office, we’ve become much more efficient, and it’s our management
team’s contention that we have some capacity where you could add assets
without even a remote growth in G&A that you might otherwise feel is
consistent with the adding of assets. And so there’s some scalability that’s
built in now through efficiency and automation that is why we’ve been
able to hold it flat, even on top of holding it flat to down. I feel like we’ve
got some capacity resident in the organization. Some of that will go to
work on the DAS business, as you can imagine, as we have high
expectations for that but, otherwise, could add tower assets with very little
change in nominal G&A.
Jonathan Schildkraut: Great. If I could squeeze one more question in, AT&T noted that they
were pulling forward some of their LTE spend to take advantage of tax
incentives that are put in place for this year, and I was wondering if you
were seeing—and it’s still early in the year, of course—any activity in
general that would lead you to believe that other carriers might pull
forward spending. And then in terms of your own expectations for
spending, particularly on the DAS, will it change your approach to how to
deploy capital? Thanks.
Jay Brown: I don’t know that it will really change our approach with how to deploy
DAS capital. Those projects are bid and work out over a long period of
time so the pipeline’s relatively long; probably doesn’t hit this calendar
year. I think broadly in the space as carriers look to deploy capital, to the
extent that they’ll accelerate it, I think they’re accelerating it largely more
for the macro trends that are happening in the wireless space. To the
extent that they try to bring some of what they would have otherwise done
in 2012 into 2011, that would be great for us and I would imagine you’ll
have a number of folks start to look at that as the year progresses.
I think it’s important to note that that’s probably more impactful if you
start to think about what will happen in the back half or the last quarter of
the year. It’s probably more impactful, frankly, to our run rate revenues
going into 2012 than it would necessarily move our overall outlook for the
Jonathan Schildkraut: All right. Thank you again.
Jay Brown: You bet.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Brett Feldman with Deutsche
Bank. Please go ahead.
Brett Feldman: Thanks for taking the question. I’ll just sort of stick with the M&A theme
here a little bit. You mentioned how, when you evaluate a potential
acquisition, the location of the asset is very important. T-Mobile’s made it
clear they’re thinking about selling their portfolio again, and like you
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guys, they have a very high concentration in large metro markets. I’m just
curious, would adding another portfolio that was as densely concentrated
in the big markets, could it possibly positively augment your existing
assets? In other words, the other assets you own in those markets might
start leasing up faster because you had attained some level of density
through the transaction; or am I over-thinking it and any deal is really just
a pure financial analysis and it’s either accretive or dilutive, and that’s
what determines whether you do it?
Benjamin Moreland: I guess it’d be halfway in between, Brett, is what I’d say. I think you are
over-thinking it a little bit in terms of, if I had more sites in the market,
would I do more than 2x what they would do independently? No, I
wouldn’t suggest that to you. But I do believe that having assets in the top
100 markets or in the major cities are very attractive; and so when you
think about the simple accretion/dilution analysis, it’s certainly more than
whatever the headline multiple on the day you close because those sites
definitely perform differently based on location. We track that in our own
Company. Obviously, we have a pretty significant sample size, 22,000
sites over a long period of time, and we are pretty good at predicting what
that lease-up opportunity looks like, and therein lies how we ultimately
will come to value that portfolio.
Jay Brown: And, Brett, obviously in addition to what Ben said on the last question, I
think, really applies here. When you acquire assets in locations where you
already have those, it allows us to more efficiently leverage the G&A that
we already have in place.
Brett Feldman: And just one last follow-up. I mean, historically, portfolios that were
owned and operated by the carriers kind of underperformed the ones that
were owned and operated by the tower guys. You obviously did a good
job pulling in the Sprint towers. Do you think there’s still room as you
buy assets to improve the lease-up rates on them, particularly if they’re
coming from carriers; or do you feel that the execution across the industry
has just gotten to be very good?
Benjamin Moreland: I think there’s opportunity.
Jay Brown: There’s clearly opportunity.
Brett Feldman: Great. Well, thank you for taking the question.
Benjamin Moreland: Okay, Brett. We have time to take one more.
Operator: Okay, thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Gray Powell
with Wells Fargo Securities. Please go ahead.
Gray Powell: Good morning, guys. Thanks for squeezing me in here. Really appreciate
it. Just have a couple questions. So it’s obviously both AT&T and
Verizon are going to be pushing 4G upgrades in 2011; however, as
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everybody knows, there’s still a limited selection of devices. So I guess
my question is, what do you see as the bigger component of leasing
demand? Is it 3G capacity enhancements or 4G builds?
Benjamin Moreland: It’s rollout, and we would expect to see comparatively more this year than
last on both of those customers that you mentioned. And we certainly
acknowledge it’s early stages, but I had an experience the other day sitting
next to someone with a 4G laptop card—and I’ve already gone out and
gotten my new one, so it’s a game-changing technology if you haven’t
played with it. And I think you’ll see, as we mentioned in our remarks,
there’s 50 devices announced to be on the market this year and so I think
it’s so early, we really don’t appreciate what it’s going to look like. But if
you’ve played with a LTE 4G device or perhaps a WiMAX device, and
Clear as we also have a subscription that we play with here in the office,
it’s a game-changing type technology and I think you’ll see significant
take-up. And we have expectations for greater activity this year than last
out of those two sort of incumbent carriers.
Gray Powell: Okay, great. And then on a final question, I don’t think I quite caught the
entire comment. You mentioned that you were giving Sprint more
flexibility on the iDEN side. Are you still seeing Sprint renew iDEN at
five-year contracts? And then, just what kind of flexibility are you baking
into new agreements?
Benjamin Moreland: Well, certainly in the normal course, they would roll through their renewal
terms everyday, given the thousands of sites across—I guess we’ve got
about, I don’t know, 16,000 sites with Sprint, the greater Sprint both on
iDEN and CDMA. So, obviously, that’s one of the requests is that we sort
of gather all those Nextel or iDEN licenses and make them co-terminus
and give them an ability to churn on a date certain, or any time thereafter.
And the average life of the portfolio today is another sort of three to four
years, so really all they’re asking for is the ability to bring all those into
sort of one logical transition that they can make.
There’s a negotiation that’s ensuing around that, as well as the capacity
that they would like to consume with their new configuration on 3G
sites—on the CDMA sites. And so, as I mentioned, that flexibility on the
Nextel side that they sort of de facto already have that we’ll clean up for
them and make it tidy, we think is about a revenue push with the new
revenue we would expect on the CDMA side. And that’s assuming that
they do, in fact, exercise the rights to terminate all those sites sort of in the
three to five-year timeframe.
If you would assume that they don’t all terminate—in fact, some get
repurposed and there’s no way for any of us, even Sprint, to say for sure
what would happen in three to five years—then obviously you wouldn’t
have that negative impact out of that timeframe and it would be more
positive than that.
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Jay Brown: And, Gray, we’re not seeing them decommission sites currently or cancel
leases. They’re continuing to renew leases as they come up today.
Gray Powell: Okay. That’s very helpful. Thank you very much.
Benjamin Moreland: You bet. Okay. I think, with that, we’re on the hour; and I want to thank
everyone for their attention and interest in Crown and we look forward to
speaking with you again, either on the conference circuit or on this call
next quarter. Thank you.
Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the Q4 2010 Earnings
conference call. If you’d like to listen to a replay of today’s conference,
please dial 303-590-3030 or 1-800-406-7325, followed by a passcode of
4396202. ACT would like to thank you for your participation. You may
Crown Castle International Page 22 1/27/2011