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Merrill Lowers Rural Cellular Rating

Merrill Lynch lowered its invetment rating on Rural Cellular (RCCC) to long term neutral from accumulate, citing disappointing subscriber results.

Analyst Linda Mutschler says she had expected the company to add 21,000 subscribers in the third quarter, but it only added 7,072, due mainly to higher than expected churn (2.8% versus her 1.8% estimates. The company posted a third quarter loss per share of $1.25 versus $1.63 loss on 12% higher revenue.

Mutschler continues to believe that several issues continue to affect its share performance including competitive pressures, the company's non-contiguous footprint, its phone leasing program, its leverage and its valuation. She sees a 2001 loss per share of $7.45 and a 2002 loss per share of $6.38.

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