TBR: AT&T Improves Profitability Despite Declining Revenues & Price Pressures

Editor’s Note:  The other side of an “earnings beat:”
AT&T beat analyst profit expectations, but overall revenues fell 1.7% compared to the year earlier quarter.  That was the third consecutive quarter of decreased revenues.
AT&T’s business revenues slipped during the second quarter due to wireline pressure from legacy services and equipment sales.  During the quarter, AT&T reported that Business Solutions segment revenues were $17.1 billion, down 2.7% year over year due to continued declines in legacy services and fewer wireless equipment upgrades, partially offset by growth in strategic business.
John Stephens, CFO said on the company’s earnings call that AT&T will continue to focus on cost management initiatives and process automation service delivery efficiency.
“We’re doing this by driving hard on cost management initiatives,” Stephens said. “Our focus is having the industry’s best cost structure, and one way to do that is by implementing process automation and service efficiencies,” he added.
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AT&T improves profitability despite mounting pricing pressures within the mobility and video markets, by Steve Vachon, TBR Analyst

Below is TBR’s commentary on AT&T’s 2Q17 earnings.  Contact Steve Vachon at +1 (603) 929-1166 or steve.vachon@tbri.com for additional commentary.

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AT&T is improving its value proposition as competition within the mobile and video markets intensify

AT&T’s consolidated revenue fell 1.7% year-to-year to $39.8 billion in 2Q17 due to declines across all of the company’s core businesses, with the exception of its International division. AT&T’s profitability improved in the quarter, however, as operating margins rose 220 basis points year-to-year to 18.4%, aided by the company’s emphasis on non-subsidized wireless device plans.

Pricing pressures, smartphone saturation and stronger competition from OTT providers are creating obstacles for AT&T to grow its mobility and video businesses, which is spurring the carrier to become more reliant on bundles combining both services to improve its value proposition. Though TBR believes AT&T trailed all of its Tier 1 competitors in postpaid phone net additions in 2Q17, the launch of its unlimited data plans helped to mitigate declines as the carrier’s postpaid phone losses improved in the quarter to -89,000, compared to -180,000 in 2Q16.

In June AT&T Unlimited Choice customers gained the option to add DirecTV Now to their accounts for $10 per month, a benefit previously offered only to Unlimited Plus customers. TBR believes the move will boost wireless and DirecTV subscriber additions, but will come at the expense of limiting postpaid phone ARPU as customers now have less incentive to select AT&T Unlimited Plus plans, which have a starting price point that is $30 more expensive than Unlimited Choice plans.

AT&T is relying on the low price point and flexibility of DirecTV Now, which gained 152,000 customers in 2Q17, to help offset declines within its U-verse TV and DirecTV satellite businesses, which lost a combined 351,000 subscribers in the quarter. Though AT&T increased Video Entertainment revenue by 2.1% year-to-year in 2Q17, TBR believes sustaining revenue growth in the segment will be increasingly challenging as total video subscribers decrease and the company trades linear TV subscribers for lower ARPU DirecTV Now connections.

New features such as the inclusion of additional live local channels and upcoming 4K HDR and cloud DVR support provide added incentives to attract DirecTV Now customers, but addressing the platform’s streaming capacity is critical as recent service interruptions will drive some subscribers to switch to rivals such as SlingTV and Hulu Live.

AT&T deepens emphasis on the public sector and software-mediated network services to improve Business Solutions revenue

To improve Business Solutions revenue, which decreased 2.7% year-to-year in 2Q17 due primarily to lower legacy voice and data revenue, AT&T is targeting growth from government customers. In April AT&T announced it is consolidating its government and education operations, which generated about $15 billion in sales in 2016, into the new Global Public Sector division to improve cohesiveness and foster partnerships across agencies in different sectors. Additionally, AT&T will be able to provide first responders with more reliable connectivity through its collaboration with First Net, which has already attracted contracts from five states as of July.

AT&T will improve the profitability of Business Solutions long-term by adopting NFV and SDN technologies. Integrating open-source technologies and white box hardware will provide cost savings by enabling the carrier to become less dependent on more costly, proprietary infrastructure. Additionally, TBR expects the acquisition of Brocade’s Vyatta network operating system will enable AT&T to meet its goal of virtualizing 75% of its network by 2020.

In addition to cost savings, AT&T is creating revenue streams by introducing new software-mediated network services to its portfolio, including an upcoming SD-WAN service in collaboration with VeloCloud. However, AT&T will be disadvantaged by its relatively late entry into the SD-WAN market as competitors including Verizon and CenturyLink have already begun to cement leading positions within the segment.

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References:

https://investors.att.com/~/media/Files/A/ATT-IR/financial-reports/quarterly-earnings/2017/2q-2017/ATT%202Q17%20Earnings%20Presentation.pdf

http://edge.media-server.com/m/p/gz5k2iq4/lan/en (Recording of earnings call)

 

One thought on “TBR: AT&T Improves Profitability Despite Declining Revenues & Price Pressures

  1. During AT&T’s earnings call, CFO John Stephens (quoted in the Editor’s Note of the article) told investors that AT&T has been making great headway with its fiber build. “We have the largest fiber footprint in the country and we’re ahead of the plan to reach our 12.5 million new fiber locations FCC commitment by mid-2019,” Stephens said. “By the time it’s all said and done, we could be looking at around 14 million FTTP customer locations.”

    AT&T expects the fiber footprint expansion to improve churn trends, as it will enable customers to bundle broadband with DirecTV and wireless services.

    “We’re seeing on an out of footprint basis where we don’t have fiber subscriber losses to competitors that can bundle,” Stephens said. “We believe we’ll address that as we continue to build out fiber.”

    “Total broadband grew for the third straight quarter, overcoming what is normally a seasonally slow second quarter,” Stephens said. “The strategy to simplify pricing, cross sell broadband with TV and wireless service and expand our fiber footprint has been paying off.”

    Fiber is just one part of AT&T’s broadband initiatives. The service provider said the combined efforts of the FTTP build and converting more customers from legacy DSL to IP broadband (previously known as U-verse “high speed” Internet) is helping drive up subscriber additions.

    “The DSL conversion combined with extending fiber to 5.5 million customer locations is strengthening our broadband position,” Stephens said. “In fact, the number of broadband subscribers on speeds of 18 Mbps or higher has increased by 6 million in the past year.”

    Disclaimer: The author has been a U-verse “high speed” Internet and TV subscriber for more than 5 years. Internet access still doesn’t meet the FCC January 2015 definition of broadband which is a minimum of 25Mb/sec downstream

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