Sprint Corp (S) Makes Sense Under Comcast Corporation (CMCSA)
Shares of Sprint Corp (NYSE: S ) have risen on renewed buyout chatter, which suggested the nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier could be taken out by either Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA ) or Charter Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: CHTR ). What would this mean for S stocks is anyone's guess, especially since these rumors have included no M&A valuation.
But regardless of what unfolds, S stock - down 15% since reaching its 52-week high of $9.65 in January - offers a solid buying opportunity, especially as the company continues to benefit from its combination of cost cuts and network investments. Sprint stock closed Friday at $8.21.
The shares have fallen more than 2.5% year-to-date, trailing the 7% rise in the S&P 500 Index . But expand the horizon by twelve months, S stock has made investors tons of money, soaring 88% from its 52-week low of $4.36.
Once thought to be on the verge of bankruptcy, Sprint has mounted an impressive recovery. With now more than $8 billion in cash on the balance sheet with another $4 billion in operating cash flow, the market has responded to the operational improvements Sprint has made under the leadership of CEO Marcelo Claure. The main beneficiary of Sprint's improvements have been majority owner SoftBank Corp. (OTCMKTS: SFTBY ), which in 2013 invested $21.6 billion in the company.
SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, who owns 80% of the company, would need a compelling reason to sell its golden goose. Comcast and Charter have reportedly secured a two-month exclusive negotiating period with Sprint involving an equity stake in the company, which according to the Wall Street Journal , lasts until late July. The deal would inject Sprint with cash it needs to upgrade its network, thereby allowing it to better compete with larger rivals AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T ) and Verizon Communications, Inc. (NYSE: VZ ).
Comcast Can Close the Deal
Neil Begley, analyst at Moody's Investors Service, suggests that Comcast and Charter could each invest $10 billion in Sprint without hurting their credit ratings, which would give the cable companies a sizable stake in Sprint. Beyond just an investment in Sprint, however, the Journal notes that the deal could also become a full-blown acquisition, though the WSJ also notes that the latter scenario is "much less likely."
But does either Comcast or Charter have any real need to buy Sprint? Both companies already have agreements to resell Verizon's wireless service under their own brands. At the same time, Comcast understands the challenges it faces.
In a world of cord-cutting and faster data speeds, cable providers are no longer as relevant as they used to be in terms of their businesses of content delivery and internet connection offerings. It's for this reason AT&T, which already owns DirecTV, is buying Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX ).
Combined with its wireless business, AT&T - upon owning Time Warner's media outlets that create content - will now have a way to control the life cycle of content. Not to mention, AT&T will have the Direct TV customers to view the content, whether at home or on mobile devices, giving it a competitive advantage over Comcast.
This is why Comcast - despite having existing agreements with Verizon - would want to own all of Sprint, not merely make an investment.
Sprint's 31.5 million post-paid subscribers at the end of the first quarter would be attractive to Comcast, especially when factoring the potential of 5G networks , which is said to have speeds that would render Comcast's ISP internet business to the home irrelevant.
Bottom Line for S Stock
From a negotiation perspective, Sprint - thanks to the deep pockets of SoftBank backing it - has tons of leverage. Not to mention, there still the possibility of a merger with T-Mobile US Inc (NASDAQ: TMUS ) still on the table.
Plus, free cash flow during the quarter was $394 million compared with a mere $3 million in the prior-year quarter, there are tons of growth catalysts that can send S stock towards $10 to $10.50 per share, delivering 22% to 28% returns in the next 12 to 18 months.
By then, Comcast would have to pay higher.
As of this writing, Richard Saintvilus did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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