FWRLX: Shopping the Telecommunications Bargain Bin

This fund invests in stocks in the communications services sector, which have been drastically marked down.

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Just as fashions rotate in and out of style, so, too, do stock market favorites. Out of favor big-time these days are communications services stocks. The broad sector includes telecom companies (think AT&T (opens in new tab)), media and entertainment firms (Netflix (opens in new tab)), and inter-active media and services (Electronic Arts (opens in new tab), Twitter). Rising interest rates and higher inflation have dampened the outlook for shares in growth-oriented companies, tripping up the sector (and others). Over the past 12 months, the S&P 500 Communications Services index has lost 22%.

Fidelity Select Wireless (FWRLX (opens in new tab)) has done better than the sector index over the past year, albeit with a loss of 9.6%. Manager Matthew Drukker keeps a trim portfolio of 47 stocks, investing in U.S. and foreign stocks across what he calls the “telecommunication ecosystem,” which includes smartphone chip makers, mobile service providers and firms behind popular apps.

A handful of Drukker’s top holdings have posted good gains over the past 12 months, including Apple (opens in new tab) (up 22%) and chipmaker Marvell Technology (opens in new tab) (up 27%). But stocks such as social media firm Snap (down 53%) and Swedish telecom company Ericsson (opens in new tab) (down 42%) have been a drag.

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Drukker isn’t worried. Many of the companies in the fund, he says, will benefit from the rollout of 5G, including Verizon Communications (opens in new tab), T-Mobile (opens in new tab) and Marvell. But adoption of this fifth-generation tech standard for wireless networks has been slow. “We’re a couple years into what is going to be a 10-year cycle,” he says.

For now, it’s business as usual. Drukker favors firms with pricing power, a growing market share, or product innovation that can drive revenue growth and boost free cash flow (money left over after paying necessary expenses to maintain and invest in the business).

Take American Tower (opens in new tab), which owns and operates cell-phone towers all over the world. The real estate investment trust bakes in a 3% annual increase to its leasing rates in its U.S. contracts with service providers such as T-Mobile and Verizon. And clients tend to stick around: In some locales, the telecom firms don’t have other options.

Rivan V. Stinson
Staff Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Rivan joined Kiplinger on Leap Day 2016 as a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. She's now a staff writer for the magazine and helps produce content for Kiplinger.com. A Michigan native, she graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 and from there freelanced as a local copy editor and proofreader, and served as a research assistant to a local Detroit journalist. Her work has been featured in the Ann Arbor Observer and Sage Business Researcher.