On an overall day of declines on Wall Street, telecom stocks were among the biggest losers amid reports that SoftBank, the majority owner of Sprint, has ended its on-again/off-again merger talks with T-Mobile.
Sprint shares plunged 9% to close at $6.34 and T-Mobile gave back 5% to finish at $59.58 in the wake of a report of the pullout published in Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review. Verizon dropped 2% to $47.83, while AT&T dipped 1% to $33.54.
The combination of major carriers — seen as all but inevitable earlier this month — could have been problematic from a regulatory point of view, not to mention the job losses and impact on rates for U.S. consumers and businesses, but the ability of both to go it alone has been in doubt for some time. Some analysts immediately dismissed the latest reports of a snag as a bargaining tactic, since SoftBank had been asked to accept an all-stock offer without much of a premium to Sprint’s current share price. What’s more, the bank’s controlling stake would become a minority investment, with Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile preserving their control — a turnabout that also is said to be giving SoftBank execs pause.
Apart from offering free Netflix streaming to subscribers (as T-Mobile has done), the two second-tier telcos have not made their presence felt in streaming video. Verizon and AT&T, in different ways, have made video a cornerstone of their efforts to attract and keep customers. Verizon built out its own streaming service with go90, maintains MVPD FiOS TV and is 50-50 partners with Hearst in Vice rival Complex, while AT&T has made pricey acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner; the latter deal is expected to close in the coming weeks.
As for the couple left at the altar without a deal, all might not be lost. While the telecom sector has shrunk overall in 2017, some analysts see a future for both T-Mobile and Sprint. Jennifer Fritzsche of Wells Fargo wrote in a research note that SoftBank’s “purposeful decision to walk away speaks loudly to the fact that Sprint’s back is not against the wall.” She cited encouraging trends in some of Sprint’s businesses, especially 5G wireless service. In the third quarter ending September 30, she noted, Sprint reported a 10% increase in gross adds (a key customer metric), best of any carrier and far better than T-Mobile’s gross loss of 6.5% in the period.