After the class action lawsuit presented by the law firms Tycho & Zavareii as well as Peterson Young Putra it remains to be seen what the outcome will be. Though analysts suggest that Clearwire delivers on its promised performance the lawsuit claims that service is faulty and the cancellation fees are unlawful. Though Clearwire has declined to comment anything more than "it is company policy", the prospect of a negative ruling on a cash starved firm is disastrous.
As a user of Clearwire, and knowing the type of service and customer care provided by this company, I can only base my assessment on my service, which is horrible. The technicians provide less than usable information, with all giving different instruction for the same problem. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. They want to keep it that way, so they can manipulate and use us the consumers. In order to get out of a two year contract, you must pay a penalty. Why. If you no longer want a service, you should have to pay to get out. That sounds like a divorce to me.
Burning cash at a high rate to fund large capital expenditures. Time to positive cash flow is uncertain. Having already tapped the debt markets, CLWR may find accessing new capital more difficult in the future. Clearwire is banking on the fact that as it expands and brings in new subscribers, it will gain enough incremental revenue to offset its rapidly rising cost structure. While this model typifies many technological startup companies, the model has some drawbacks when working with billion dollar expense levels. As the economy has become more challenging, the strategy has been revised to reduce the number of new markets the company will expand into. While this decreases the additional rollout costs for now, it also pressures assumptions as to new subscriber additions which is the lifeblood of a growing company. Additionally, management has decided to turn to voice as well as data as it attempts to sign on new subscribers. While the public story is that this move leverages existing relationships with clients, there is reason to believe this move was necessary because the data rollout was coming along slower than expected.
Net subscriber additions came in a bit higher than expectations, but looking at the way this number is calculated raises additional concerns. The number is affected both by gross subscriber adds (new customers) and by the churn rate (loss of existing customers). The gross subscriber additions were much higher than some analysts expected which is certainly a positive data point. However, the churn rate came in above expectations which may or may not be due to customers dis-satisfaction with the products offered. At any rate, a higher churn rate coupled with rising costs to acquire new subscribers is a recipe for losses. Management is guiding analysts to expect higher churn rates and this metric bears close watching in the coming quarters.
The biggest concern when looking at the long-term condition of the company is a funding gap of roughly $2.1 to $2.3 billion that Clearwire must raise in order to complete its nationwide buildout of its data network. With credit markets still in an illiquid position, and the stock dropping below pre-IPO levels, there are not many attractive ways that management could raise capital without hurting current investors. Debt financing is not likely to be available on the billion dollar scale for a technology company that is EBITDA negative to the tune of 81.2 million per quarter. At the same time, if a block of stock is sold via an underwriting transaction, it will likely push the stock down another 10 to 20% with the underwriters taking another large chunk of the capital as their fee. Wow.