Virgin Mobile USA Stinks Up Q1, Blames Economy, Says Q2 Will Be Worse

“Virtual” wireless carrier Virgin Mobile USA (VM) posted an ugly Q1: Revenue, profit, and subscriber growth shrank year-over-year, while the percentage of customers fleeing the carrier grew.

Virgin blamed the soft U.S. economy for some of its problems: On the company’s conference call, CFO John Feehan said 57% of subscribers leaving the service weren’t leaving for another carrier, “but were stopping wireless use for the time being.” Customers leaving the service due to budget constraints jumped 50% year-over-year in Q1, Feehan said.

After gaining 7% today, Virgin shares are down 14% in after-hours trading to $3.24 — and down 80% from their 52-week high, reached on its first day of trading last October.

And things will get worse before they get better: Virgin expects to lose net subscribers during Q2 as customers who got Virgin phones as holiday gifts in Q4 flake off the service.

The silver lining: Virgin Mobile (and analysts) already had very low expectations for Q1.

  • The company posted $326.8 million of Q1 sales, down 4% year-over-year, but beating the Street’s $317.2 million consensus.
  • Net service revenues came in at $303.8 million, down 5.7% year-over-year, but at the high end of the company’s guidance of $293-303 million.
  • Despite getting 796,000 people to sign up for Virgin Mobile service, the company only added 18,000 net subs during Q1. (Down from 310,000 net sub additions in Q1 2007.) But that was also at the high end of its 5,000-20,000 Q1 net subscriber guidance.

During Q2, the company expects to lose 130,000 to 160,000 subscribers, and says EPS will be in the range of a 3 cents per share profit to a 1 cent per share loss. Analysts were expecting a 15 cents per share profit for Q2.

The good news: 38% of its new subscriber activations in April signed up for new service plans priced on a month-to-month basis. The company said those subscribers spend an average $40 per month on service, more than double the $19.93 that Virgin subscribers spent per month, on average, during Q1.

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