LONDON — When the country’s finest dividend investor took a swing at the U.K.’s greatest dividend behemoth, it caused quite a dust-up.
In February, City legend Neil Woodford laid into Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD), dropping his entire stake in a single swipe.
Last week, the Fool’s own investment heavyweight, Maynard Paton, also joined battle, backing what he called “the most contentious sell decision in the market today.”
Poor Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD). After years of sterling dividend service, it deserves better. Somebody should come to its defense. And here I am.
Woodford listed four reasons to sell Vodafone. Falling revenues in southern Europe, the decision to deny shareholders the Verizon Wireless dividend, concerns about data-service profits, and dividend cash flow cover falling to dangerous levels.
Woodford apparently sold Vodafone at 1.71 pounds. Earlier this week it traded at 1.90 pounds. Despite Woodford giving it his best shot, Vodafone is neither down nor out. In fact, it’s risen up to 11% in four months.
Did Woodford’s punches really connect?
Below the belt
That first jab at Vodafone was a low blow. I mean, if you sold every stock in the FTSE 100 with falling southern European revenues, your portfolio would empty in a hot minute. Blame the misconceived single currency, Vodafone is innocent.
So what about that Verizon dividend? Sure, it’s a pity Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD) didn’t dish out the 2.1 billion pound Verizon dividend to investors in May, but maybe that money is better spent buying airwaves to run 4G networks.
Vodafone is due to start rolling out its British 4G network this summer, and aims to offer 40% coverage in its five main European markets by March 2015, all of which costs money.
On a current yield of 5%-plus, dividend investors are already doing very nicely as it is.
Will data services generate enough profits? Full-year results, published last month, showed a 14.4% rise in data revenue in northern and central Europe, as smartphone penetration nears 36% in the region.
Data revenue even rose 9.7% in southern Europe, despite the euro, and grew strongly in emerging markets such as India (19.8%), South Africa (16.1%), and Egypt (29.6%). That may not be good enough for Woodford, but it’s good enough for me.