Sprint-Nextel Corp. (NYSE:S), the No. 3 telecommunications company, is scheduled to report another fourth-quarter loss on Wednesday, but customers and investors really await what CEO Dan Hesse says about the company’s plans to be effectively acquired by Japan’s SoftBank Corp. (TYO:9984).
SoftBank is trying to acquire at least 70 percent of the Overland Park, Kan., carrier later this year in a $20 billion deal that may be challenged by the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.
Separately, Deutsche Telekom (PINK:DTEGY) is seeking to acquire No. 5 carrier Metro PCS Communications (NYSE:PCS) for a similar amount, then inject its U.S. unit, T-Mobile USA, the No. 4 carrier, into the enlarged company. Regulators are also looking at that deal.
To date, SoftBank has already injected more than $3 billion into Sprint, which used some of the cash last quarter to acquire majority control of Clearwire Corp. (NASDAQ:CLWR), the national provider of LTE (long-term evolution) services. It then bid $2.1 billion for the rest of Clearwire that resulted in a January counterbid by Dish Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH), which offered $5 billion for the entire company.
Dish, of Englewood, Colo., a vehicle of satellite pioneer Jack Ergen, while bidding $3.30 a share for Clearwire compared with Sprint’s $2.97, also said it would settle for buying 23 percent of Clearwire’s spectrum for about $2.2 billion, indicating it would make a deal.
Sprint’s also expected to disclose how many subscribers its wireless unit has added since the 56 million reported last quarter. Bigger rivals AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), the No. 1 telecommunications carrier, and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), the No. 2 telecommunications carrier, have respectively reported 107 million customers and 98.3 million as of Dec. 31, both modest hikes.
Unlike the bigger carriers, Sprint no longer has a landline business, deriving all its revenue either from mobile or data communications, including supporting major enterprises.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Sprint’s fourth-quarter loss to swell to $1.36 billion, or 46 cents a share, from the prior-year’s $1.08 billion, or 35 cents, as revenue rises about 2 percent to $8.92 billion.
For the year, Sprint’s loss is expected to jump to $4.38 billion, or $1.46 a share, from the prior-year’s $2.67 billion, or 88 cents a share, as revenue increases about 5 percent to $35.27 billion.
Sprint has spent heavily to modernize its network, especially for LTE traffic required for smartphones, including the iPhone family from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), the most valuable technology company. It was the last of the Big 3 carriers to carry the iPhone, in the fourth quarter of 2011, and had to pay Apple as much as $20 billion over five years for the privilege.
Shares of Sprint have soared since SoftBank announced its takeover plans. They more than doubled, boosting the company’s market value above $17 billion, still light years behind the $197.2 billion value of AT&T.
But 11 of the 39 analysts who cover the shares have “buy” recommendations, largely due to the SoftBank takeover as well as respect for its CEO, Masayoshi Son, who’s made the company Japan’s No. 2 wireless carrier as well as a respected player in the online content business.
Standard & Poor’s analyst James Moorman is among the “buy” analysts, with a target price of $6.50. Sprint “will benefit from the SoftBank deal in terms of economies of scale and enterprise,” he said. Still, he worried the company may report some loss of mobile subscribers in the second quarter due to a recertification program that would chop out lower-revenue customers.
Sprint’s also closing down the Nextel network acquired as part of its ill-fated acquisition of Nextel in 2005. The cost was $36 billion. Sprint wrote off $29.7 billion of the acquisition cost in 2008.
Shares of Sprint rose 6 cents to $5.77 in Wednesday trading. They’ve gained 133 percent in the past year.