AT&T pulls 2020 financial forecast as coronavirus clouds business

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(Reuters) – AT&T Inc (T.N) pulled its financial forecast for the year on Wednesday as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic clouded its view for the foreseeable future.

FILE PHOTO: The company logo for AT&T is displayed on a screen on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Although the company reported revenue and profit per share that was short of Wall Street expectations in the first quarter, a surge in new phone subscribers sent shares up 1.5% in morning trading.

The U.S. telecom and media giant warned that the current quarter would demonstrate the full impact of nationwide stay-at-home mandates aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which only affected the company’s results during the last two weeks of March.

The Dallas-based phone giant is the first of the big U.S. communications companies to report quarterly results, providing a glimpse into the resilience and challenges faced by the telecoms sector during the coronavirus pandemic.

AT&T said the pandemic reduced earnings by 5 cents per share in the first quarter. A severe blow to advertising sales, due to the postponement of live sports such as college basketball’s March Madness and lower wireless equipment sales, led to a $600 million decline in revenue.

AT&T said it had limited visibility for the rest of the year and on its three-year strategic plan here announced in October, but added it had enough free cash flow to pay dividends and make debt payments.

To boost liquidity, the company entered into a $5.5 billion loan agreement, adding to debt that has been a point of contention for its investors. The company reported $154.3 billion in net debt as of the end of March.

In the first three months, AT&T added 163,000 net new monthly phone subscribers, beating the average Wall Street estimate of 90,700.

AT&T was able to sign up more customers despite shutting down more than 40% of its retail stores and reported 0.86% in postpaid phone churn, an improvement over last year’s churn of 1.07%.

The company said that the coronavirus pandemic had a $435 million impact on EBITDA.

AT&T lost 897,000 so-called premium TV subscribers, which includes its satellite TV provider DirecTV and a small number of U-Verse users, as more consumers cut cords amid the pandemic.

WarnerMedia, which suffered the brunt of the impact from the pandemic, reported $7.4 billion in revenue, down from $8.4 billion from a year earlier. The closing of theaters and halting of production hurt its media business.

On Tuesday, Netflix reported a surprisingly big surge in new subscribers but warned the second half of the year would experience slower growth as stay-at-home orders end.

AT&T is set to launch HBO Max, a subscription streaming video service and Netflix Inc.(NFLX.O) competitor on May 27.

The company reported total revenue of $42.8 billion, missing Wall Street expectations of $44.2 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Excluding items, AT&T reported earnings per share of 84 cents, missing analysts estimates of 85 cents, according to Refinitiv.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Arriana McLymore in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky

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