Hooray! Clearwire rocketed 23%! The company signed two key distribution deals this week with DirecTV and EchoStar, both of which will offer Clearwire’s broadband wireless access to their customers later this year. And the stock’s moving even higher today. Investors must be all ecstatic and giddy over the profits they are making, right?
Well, maybe not. For most, relief is more like it. Despite the breathless tone of some headlines – “Satellite Deals Send Clearwire into Orbit,” said BusinessWeek.com – the deal merely erases old stock losses. Clearwire went public at $25 a share, then sank below $16. Yesterday, it was back at $24.50, and rose as high as $24.93 today.
That’s less like a launch into orbit than firing a rocket from the bottom of a deep crater back to the surface – and still not quite making it. In fact, that’s exactly what Clearwire’s stock chart looks like now – a deep, scary crater.
Clearwire is an interesting stock to follow, mostly because it has as much going for it as against it. It was founded by Craig McCaw, who sold McCaw Cellular to AT&T for $13 billion before making a mint off an investment in Nextel. But McCaw also founded a company that eventually became XO Communications, which went bankrupt, and Teledesic, which raised a bundle and only launched one satellite. It was a test satellite.
All of those ventures, successful or not, used the classic McCaw formula: Pick the current hot telecom technology, borrow heavily and sell all the stock you can, mounting losses be damned. Clearwire is following the same playbook. You can make arguments for and against its prospects, but the fact is no one knows with any certainty which track Clearwire will take.
That makes the stock a prime speculative play – if you’re into that kind of thing. The Clearwire stock is going to be a bumpy ride – a long, bumpy ride. Speculation adds volatility to an already uncertain outlook: Shorts come in, weigh the price down and then get squeezed on news like this deal. Short interest on Clearwire jumped to 6.9 million shares last Month from 3.8 million in April.
So it’s hard to read too much into the 23% rise yesterday. DirecTV’s stock rose only 2.7% on the news, and EchoStar was unchanged. Analysts of those companies were positive on the news, saying it helps strengthen their ability to offer a triple play of services and compete with cable operators. But DirecTV and EchoStar are both up 40% or more in the past year, and are less likely to have been pushed around by shorts.
Clearwire was also aided by a report in The Wall Street Journal that Sprint Nextel, Clearwire’s most formidable competitor, is weighing new options to finance its $3 billion WiMax project – and that one of them is a deal with Clearwire. Ironically, Sprint is responding to shareholders concerned about heavy capital spending. That hasn’t been a worry for Clearwire.
It’s still impossible to tell who will win in wireless broadband: Reversals of fortunes are common when emerging technologies face hypercompetitive markets. Say what you will about Clearwire’s business, there’s one thing about the stock I don’t like: Clearwire filed for an IPO in May 2006 and pulled it in order to sell $1 billion worth of stock to Intel, Motorola and others at $18 a share.
Those investors are the one’s cheering Clearwire’s stock rally. For anyone who missed out on buying Clearwire at its inflated offering price of $25 a share, don’t despair. You will get another chance if the stock rises just a bit further.