UPDATED with closing price. In a mixed trading session for Wall Street, shares in AT&T roseup nearly 2% all day before finishing up 1% after a prominent analyst upgraded the stock to a “buy” from “neutral.”
John Hodulik of UBS, who has long tracked the telecom space and AT&T, upped his 12-month price target from $33 to $38. Shares have hovered around $34 today on average trading volume, closing at $33.78. Since February, they have remained well below the level where they were in October 2016, when the $79 billion acquisition of Time Warner first was proposed.
“We believe the stock is trading near all-time low valuations (and the widest gap to Verizon) given a mix of EBITDA declines, concerns over the debt load and secular issues impacting the space,” Hodulik wrote. “The Time Warner transaction and accounting changes have compounded these issues, leading to a loss of visibility for investors.”
At WarnerMedia, Hodulik said, the “worst is likely over” in terms of year-on-year comparisons and other headwinds. And speaking of headwinds, the nearly two-year process of getting federal approval for the Time Warner deal technically is not over yet. The Department of Justice is pursuing an appeal of a judge’s ruling in June greenlighting the deal, with a three-judge federal appeals court panel expected to start hearing arguments in October.
While he did not address the legal entanglements, Hodulik wrote, “New initiatives from the deal are likely to have little impact on overall trends for the next two years.” He said there is considerable upside in the addressable advertising plan at Turner, which is to marry the data capabilities of AT&T with the programming and ad expertise at TNT, TBS, CNN and the rest.
Investments in direct-to-consumer offerings (officially an industry arms race now that Disney is bulking up in that area) are a concern, Hodulik said. Also, “higher spending on HBO combined with continued ratings declines temper our expectations.”