Shirtfronted: Why the Vocus Communications Limited share price is plunging today

Credit: r reeve

Shares in dark fibre and retail broadband provider Vocus Communications Limited (ASX: VOC) plunged 4% this morning after the board announced the resignation of James Spenceley and Tony Grist as two of its board members.

It appears Mr Spenceley and Mr Grist have badly fallen out with the combined group’s CEO and ex-M2 boss, Geoff Horth, in what the group defined as a “difference of opinion” between the departing directors and the board.

What looks like a Machiavellian-style plot hatched by Mr Grist to dump Mr Horth was reportedly rejected by the board and also resulted in it “requesting and accepting” the resignation of Mr Spenceley.

Unfortunately, ever since the management teams fought together to get the Vocus/ M2 merger over the line (in the face of some shirtfront tactics from TPG Telecom Ltd (ASX: TPM)) it appears to have been all downhill in terms of personal relationships.

Mr Grist reportedly did not need to be asked to resign and I would not be surprised to see the two ex-directors sell down their still substantial shareholdings in the business.

In August Mr Spenceley sold $26 million worth of shares which meant he was either planning on signing LeBron James for his Illawarra Hawks basketball team, or had already concluded that personal relationships meant the direction of the combined Vocus business was not for him. Mr Grist is the founder of WA-based dark fibre business, Amcom, which was acquired by Vocus in 2015.


For investors what matters is the future and I believe it still remains bright for Vocus given the growth in demand for its fibre-optic internet infrastructure and data centre services.

The retail broadband businesses of Dodo and iPrimus face some moderate margin compression thanks to the NBN, although as households switch to the NBN this may prove a yin-yang opportunity to grow market share from more expensive broadband service providers such as Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS). Notably, M2’s retail broadband businesses have always operated as resellers of internet connectivity and therefore never enjoyed the high margins of the likes of TPG.

The M2 Group and management team under Geoff Horth and Vaughan Bowen also have a second-to-none track record in terms of past acquisitions and their integration in terms of growing the M2 business. Mergers normally involve some cost cutting and job losses, which is a shame, although I expect the management team is serious in its ambition to meet synergy targets and hit a $20 share price by 2020. It is likely this aggressive approach to cost cutting (aka synergy targets) that has caused some friction within the board.

Geoff Horth may be off James Spenceley’s Christmas card list, but in my opinion Christmas has come early for investors, with Vocus shares looking a buy at $5.30.

If you are interested in quality dividend shares you should look beyond Vocus, as The Motley Fool would recommend this top dividend share instead. A strong yield and potential share price gains make this a great investment idea in my opinion.

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Motley Fool contributor Tom Richardson owns shares of TPG Telecom Limited and Vocus Communications Limited.

You can find Tom on Twitter @tommyr345

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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