By Marissa Mae M. Ramos

PLDT, INC. was one of the most actively traded stocks last week as investors expected the company’s earnings to at least be sustained amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) by way of higher demand for data services among households.

A total of 1.35 million PLDT shares worth P1.35 billion exchanged hands last week, according to data from the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Shares in the Pangilinan-led company closed on Friday at P1,070 apiece, up 24.3% from the previous week’s P860.50. Year to date, the stock gained 7.6%.

“The slowdown in business activities could hit PLDT particularly its corporate data front. Nonetheless, PLDT could still remain strong amid the pressing times…,” Philstocks Financial, Inc. Senior Research Analyst Japhet Louis O. Tantiangco said in an e-mail.

RCBC Securities, Inc. Research Analyst Frances Nicole L. Samorano said PLDT’s fundamentals will “remain intact” given firm demand for telecommunication services amid the ECQ.

“The increase in demand for data may stick even after the ECQ is lifted as more online consumer habits (ex. food/grocery delivery) form during the quarantine period, while businesses may be persuaded to adopt work-from-home policies,” Ms. Samorano said in a separate e-mail.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon under ECQ on March 16 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, thereby limiting business activity.

Philstocks’ Mr. Tantiango said the “systematic risk” brought by COVID-19 brought the PLDT’s closing share price on March 20 to P860.5 that day, with a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 8.28 times.

“This was more than 49% below its five-year P/E average. Investors took the opportunity out of this bargain which in turn increased trading activity for PLDT,” he said.

PLDT reported a 19.1% growth in its attributable net income to P22.52 billion last year from P18.92 billion in 2018. Its telco core income, which excludes the impact of asset sales and Voyager Innovations, rose 12.6% to P27.08 billion from P24.05 billion the previous year.

Service revenues, the majority of which are from its data services, grew 7.4% to P157.7 billion in 2019.

“For 2020, it’s possible that PLDT would continue to grow as it has just gained traction on its growth path but headwinds will be the extent of the negative effects of the pandemic virus on the economy as a whole and how Dito [Telecommunity Corp.] could prove itself as a worthy competitor in the telco business,” said Aniceto K. Pangan, equity trader at Diversified Securities, Inc., in a mobile message.

Philstocks’ Mr. Tantiangco said PLDT’s core income was initially projected to increase by about 9% this year, but this may change once the “real impact” of the ECQ on earnings is accounted for in the first- and second-quarter reports.

“In the coming weeks, PLDT’s shares could move in accordance with the general market sentiment. At P1,070, it is trading at a P/E of 10.29 times, which is still about 37% below its five-year P/E ratio average, so there’s still room for bargain hunting,” he said.

“[W]hether the bargain hunting would continue depends on the overall market narrative… Positive developments would spur more rallies while negative ones would lead to profit-taking,” he added.

Mr. Tantiagco placed PLDT’s support and resistance ranges at P980-P990 and P1,090-P1,120, respectively.

Diversified Securities’ Mr. Pangan pegged the stock’s short-term support at P839 and resistance at P1,095.