Jefferies analysts lowered first-quarter estimates for all four major U.S. mobile network operators—yes, even T-Mobile—citing both slowing growth and a “fiercely competitive” market.
T-Mobile and Sprint announced unlimited plans almost simultaneously in August, prompting the nation’s two largest carriers to respond during the first quarter of 2017. AT&T made its unlimited plan available to all customers in February after previously limiting them to DirecTV subscribers, and Verizon finally announced an unlimited plan in a reversal of its longstanding policy to avoid all-you-can-eat offerings.
Carriers have sweetened their offers in recent weeks by adding perks such as HD video and hotspot features. Meanwhile, growth in the U.S. wireless market was even slower than normal during the first quarter, Jefferies said.
“It should come as no surprise that wireless remains fiercely competitive, with 1Q bringing the return of Verizon Unlimited, a revamped Unlimited offering at AT&T, new pricing promotions at Sprint, and the elimination of taxes/fees at T-Mobile,” Mike McCormack of Jefferies wrote. “The net result is likely higher churn as well as near-term ARPU pressure given customer rightsizing and less overage revenue. All this aid what appears to be more than just a seasonally soft gross add quarter.”
Jefferies decreased estimates for every major carrier across a variety of metrics:
AT&T’s earnings per share estimate fell from 77 cents to 74 cents, and postpaid net adds dropped from 112,000 to 72,000 based on weaker-than-expected handset sales and the shutdown of its 2G network
Verizon’s earnings per share estimate shrank from $1.03 to 97 cents, and its estimated first-quarter ARPA (average revenue per account) was lowered to $139.21, marking a 4.2% year-over-year decline
Sprint’s estimated postpaid net additions for the quarter was lowered from 55,000 to 50,000, and Jefferies’ estimated EBITDA was lowered to $2.68 billion
T-Mobile’s estimated postpaid net adds was lowered to 720,000, down from 800,000, “due to a more muted pace of churn improvement.” Estimated prepaid net adds was lowered from 750,000 to 525,000 due in part to “perceived improvements at Sprint,” and ARPU was lowered to $47.64, which would mark a sequential quarterly drop of 1.5%.
Carriers will begin to announce their first-quarter results later this month. Verizon is scheduled to post its earnings April 20—the other three major operators have yet to set dates for their earnings announcements.