Telecom giant AT&T Inc. (T) is gearing up to report fourth-quarter earnings after the close of trading Wednesday with questions remaining over its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc. (TWX), how well DirecTV Now, its new over-the-top streaming service is faring and whether or not it lost subscribers.
For the fourth quarter, Wall Street analysts, as polled by Thomson Financial, expect AT&T to weigh in with earnings of $0.66 a share and revenue of $3.04 billion. In the year-ago fourth quarter AT&T reported earnings of $0.63 a share and revenue of $42.12 billion.
One of the biggest questions investors and analysts will want to know about is the fate of its proposed merger with Time Warner. With President Donald Trump expressing opposition to it before he won the White House and reports surfacing in recent weeks that he is still against the deal, investors and analysts will be paying close attention to anything AT&T has to say on that front. AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson recently met with Trump. Analysts are likely to pepper the CEO with questions about the meeting although AT&T has already said it didn’t discuss Time Warner with President Trump.
200K New Customers
During the fourth quarter, AT&T launched DirecTV Now, a streaming video service to take on the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV. Last week, AT&T disclosed DirecTV Now had more than 200,000 paying customers in the first month the service went live. News of the subscriber gains comes at a time when DirecTV Now is facing lots of complaints from customers who have had issues with the service and a tough time getting refunds. AT&T is expected to provide an update on how the business is faring and what the outlook for it is. (See also: AT&T Announces $1 Billion Non-Cash Charge.)
On the regulatory front, while there are concerns about the Time Warner deal, AT&T and the other telecom and cable players are expected to see less of it under the Trump administration, including the potential for net neutrality to go away.
New FCC Head
On Monday, President Trump designated Ajit Pai, a Republican member of the commission as the Federal Communications Commission’s new chairman. Pai will take over from Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, who will step down at the end of the week. Wheeler’s term isn’t over, but the new president gets to name a new chairman, giving the Republicans the majority on the FCC.
Pai is a telecommunications lawyer who has been on the FCC since May 2012. He is a staunch critic of net neutrality and has argued in many instances that the FCC is too heavy handed in its authority. (See also: Trump Appoints Net Neutrality Foe to Chair FCC.)
Finally, investors and analysts will want to know how AT&T did on the wireless subscriber front with competition heating up from T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS) and to a lesser extend Sprint Corporation (S). With AT&T losing subscribers, analysts will want to know if AT&T stems the tide and actually gained some wireless customers during the fourth quarter.