AT&T 4Q Earnings Preview: No. 1 Keeps Profits Growing

 @DavidZie on January 23 2013 5:53 AM
AT&T logo in a New York store.
AT&T's logo seen in a New York store. REUTERS

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), the No. 1 telecommunications carrier, is expected to report substantially higher fourth-quarter earnings despite slightly lower revenue, due to wireless sector gains on more subscribers and higher data usage.

The Dallas-based voice and data communications giant may also report extraordinary charges due to Superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, similar to Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), the No. 2 carrier, which took a charge of 7 cents a share for the storm.

When it reports after markets close Thursday, AT&T is expected to say its revenue rose more than 8 percent to $2.67 billion, or 46 cents a share, from the prior year’s $2.467 billion, or 42 cents. Revenue is expected to ease about $300 million to $32.21 billion.

A survey of 39 analysts by Thomson Reuters indicates expectations that 2013 will be a better year for AT&T earnings. They expect 2013 net income to rise more than 4 percent to $14.39 billion, or $2.52 a share, from the expected 2012 net income of $13.8 billion, or $2.35 a share.

Revenue may rise to $128.34 billion from the expected $126.97 billion for 2012.

Analyst Todd Rosenbluth of Standard & Poor’s expects this year’s revenue may reach $130 billion, as margins widen as AT&T tries to reduce subsidies it pays suppliers such as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), the most valuable technology company, and Samsung Electronics Corp. (KRX:005930) for their best-selling smartphones.

AT&T was the first seller of the iPhone from Apple, which masks the high costs of new products such as the iPhone 5 by requiring subscribers to sign up for two-year calling plans. Then AT&T hopes customers for all phones will use data and video services heavily, boosting profits from the network.

AT&T is also expected to report the number of wireless subscribers as of Dec. 31. Last quarter, the company said it had nearly 106 million. On Tuesday, Verizon Wireless said its roster had grown to 98.2 million subscribers.

Analysts say AT&T has a good record retaining wireless subscribers, losing only about 1 percent each quarter, while continuing to add more.

CEO Randall Stephenson and CFO John Stephens may also be asked for comment on plans for the new data networking joint venture with International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), the No. 2 computer company, which started on Jan. 1.

They may also be asked about sale of AT&T’s slow-growing directory business as well as the planned takeover of Sprint-Nextel Corp. (NYSE:S), the No. 3 telecommunications company, by Japan’s SoftBank (TYO:9984) for $21 billion, as well as of No. 5 wireless carrier MetroPCS Communications (NYSE:PCS) by Deutsche Telekom (PINK:DTEGY), which already owns T-Mobile USA, the No. 4 carrier.

Two years ago, AT&T announced plans to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion in a move that was opposed by the Obama administration and dropped at the end of 2011. AT&T, though, had to pay $3 billion to Deutsche Telekom in a breakup fee as well as provide services valued at $1 billion.

Shares of AT&T closed at $33.68, up $24 cents, in Tuesday trading. With dividends, they’ve gained 16.2 percent over the past 52 weeks.

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