Why Intelsat Stock Just Jumped 12%

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What happened

Shares of communications satellite operator Intelsat (NYSE: I) jumped as much as 14% in early Monday trading, and remain up 12.3% as of 12:20 p.m. EDT. Curiously, the catalyst for this jump appears to be no more than a rather banal press release announcing that Intelsat "has launched a new, Ku-band Multi-Channel Per Carrier (MCPC) media platform for Central and Eastern Europe" designed to "provide regional and international programmers with a cost-effective solution" for distributing video content to its customers.

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So what

It's hard to say how big of a deal this development will be for Intelsat, although my hunch is that its effect will be limited. Rather than regale investors with projections for revenue or profit growth arising out of the development, Intelsat closed its press release with a simple invitation for corporate customers interested in "more information" to visit its NAB Show "booth" at the Las Vegas Convention Center from April 9 through April 12.

So why did this new pop the stock so much this morning?

With more than $2.1 billion in annual revenue, Intelsat isn't a huge company. Its market capitalization is even tinier -- less than $690 million. Still, Intelsat is a big entity in one respect at least -- its debt.

With $14.45 billion in debt on its balance sheet and only $525 million in cash, Intelsat's net debt load of nearly $14 billion dwarfs the company's market cap. News that might not move the needle on a company with $14.7 billion in market cap, however, can have an outsized effect on an enterprise of $14.7 billion in value -- only $0.7 billion of which is equity.

Now what

We've seen this dynamic at play at Intelsat in the past, with the stock soaring one day and crashing the next, even on news items the effects of which look negligible, or at least difficult to quantify. While this may make for an exciting ride for momentum stock traders, however, I'd urge longer-term investors to keep focused on the bigger picture, and track the company's progress from quarter to quarter.

Is Intelsat generating strong free cash flow? Is it using that free cash flow to pay down its debt? The more often you find those answers to be "yes," the more attractive an investment Intelsat will become.

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Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.