As recovery bells ring throughout telecom, it's time to look at who the winners and losers were on the stock market. Welcome to the annual review of the top ten stocks, good and bad.
To be considered, a company had to fit in the coverage turf of a Light Reading Inc. site -- that is, Light Reading, Byte & Switch, or Unstrung. So Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. (NYSE: KKD), while vital to the fueling of the Light Reading empire, doesn't count. On a more serious note, neither does high-flying Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) -- sorry, Mac culties. (Neither would have made the list anyway, but you get the idea.)
As usual, bankruptcies and liquidations don't count. (It just doesn't seem sporting to rank a stock's 100-percent decline.)
Because the rankings are by percentage change, the penny stocks are at an advantage. So this time, we've added a rule that a stock must have started the year at more than $1 per share. That's good news for sagging carriers Adelphia Communications and McLeodUSA Inc. (Nasdaq: MCLD), which were otherwise destined for the "Pains" list. The rule also knocked out the 200-percent gain of Occam Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: OCNW) -- which started the year at a paltry 9 cents per share.
Yes, the big percentage gains unfairly go to the smaller stocks. Some higher-priced issues came close to making this list, though. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) climbed 120 percent to more than $400 per share, while Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) climbed roughly 60 percent each.
Profits are at least a year away, by most estimates, but Time Warner Telecom has made some strides this year. Its enterprise business is growing, and that's good -- even if business-class VOIP is a pain, as a company exec noted in June. And Time Warner Telecom sees opportunity in the AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) merger with SBC and the pending blending of MCI LLC and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), as the deals could send large corporations shopping for better telecom pricing.
The concept of rural cellular was hot this year, so why not "Rural Cellular" the company, too? Analysts thought the Alltel Corp. (NYSE: AT) acquisition of Western Wireless Corp. early this year signaled a coming surge in mergers for North American rural wireless, a sector packed with small companies. Rural Cellular didn't strike any deals, but its stock gave investors some pleasant news anyway. Fellow rural carrier Centennial Communications Corp. (Nasdaq: CYCL) (Nasdaq: CYCL) did well, too, charting 94 percent stock growth.
That's right: Redback! The company made the list of 2003 stock declines and barely missed the 2004 list, but Redback finally got its game in 2005. IPTV and the broadband edge ruled the day, with Redback scoring deals with the likes of BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS). A reseller relationship with Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), which enjoyed some IPTV prosperity itself, helped too, as did occasional rumors of Redback getting acquired.
We still contend it's not a good thing to undergo a bankruptcy filing and a 1-for-73 reverse stock split. (See Turkey Awards.) But Redback certainly seems to be making the most of its second chance, enough to garner it a Leading Lights award for Best Investment Potential.
It certainly seemed strange when NetLogic went public in 2004, considering the market for search-engine chips -- adjuncts to network processors -- hadn't been kind to any of the startups trying it. But NetLogic has the ear of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and that's made for a nice business. NetLogic is profitable and enjoying a run rate of $80 million per year, based on September-quarter figures.
What were we saying about rural wireless? Oklahoma City-based Dobson is among the largest players there, and it claims to be the eighth largest U.S. wireless carrier, with 1.6 million subscribers across 16 states. Life isn't too bad for Dobson these days: It's got a former Nextel Communications exec at the helm, and it's hiring, albeit as the result of some restructuring in remote cities.
The caret company's shares were rallying as we approached deadline on Dec. 28. So, had we run the numbers one day later, it might have escaped a second consecutive appearance on the "Pains" list. As it stands, though, the carrier's year was a shade worse than that of Primus Telecommunications Group Inc. (Nasdaq: PRTL), which dropped 77.4 percent on the year.
Another repeat winner, Digital Lightwave graced this list in 2003. The company underwent the usual signs of trouble this year, as founder Bryan Zwan stepped down as CEO -- for the third time -- and Nasdaq delisted its shares. It's all light years away from the company's glory days, which netted Zwan a pretty penny, according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings in 2002. (See DIGL Founder: $348M in Insider Sales .)
Its Website proclaims FiberNet a "Deloitte Technology Fast 50" company. It's chalked up Equant N.V. , Internap Network Services Corp. (Nasdaq: INAP), and Savvis (Nasdaq: SVVS) as customers, and it wants to get into VOIP peering. But FiberNet faces a cash crunch, with just $2.3 million in the bank, according to a November SEC filing. Meanwhile, losses continue to mount -- to the tune of $11.7 million for the nine months ending Sept. 30, against $25 million in revenues. A 1-for-10 reverse split in May didn't help matters any.
By the way, this FiberNet is different from Fibernet Group plc (London: FIB), a U.K. service provider.
VOIP equipment's star has fallen, at least for some of the startups involved. Newport trotted out a flurry of small contract wins in the last half of the year, but it's in danger of losing the session border controller game to rivals such as Acme Packet Inc. (Nasdaq: APKT). It doesn't help that Cisco recently announced plans to integrate a session border controller into some of its routers.
The wireless revolution isn't being kind to BCGI, a provider of billing software for cellular networks. The company's stock was down about 50 percent already when, in May, it lost a patent suit filed by Freedom Wireless Inc. in 2000. A jury ordered BCGI and other defendants, including top customer Cingular Wireless , to pay $128 million -- "an amount which exceeds [BCGI's] ability to pay," according to BCGI's SEC filings. BCGI, which tallies annual revenues in the $100 million range, is preparing an appeal.