By Arriana McLymore and Sheila Dang
(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.
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, but fell 2% later in the day.
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.
“We’re in a world where there’s very little visibility in terms of what the general economic environment is going to be,” Randall Stephenson, chief executive of AT&T, said on Wednesday on a conference call with analysts. “When is America going to go back to work? That’s going to roll out probably by community. It’s probably going to be slower than most of us like.”
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 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-at-t-elliott/att-to-add-directors-sell-up-to-10-billion-in-assets-next-year-idUSKBN1X7145 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%.
Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson, warned that the first quarter was only a glimpse of the pain yet to come.
“The COVID-19 crisis slammed the brakes on the rising trend in churn,” Moffett said in a report. “It is clear that the lockdown simply stopped retail activity in its tracks.”
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 Inc <NFLX.O> reported a surprisingly big surge in new subscribers but warned the second half of the year would be marked by slower growth as stay-at-home orders end.
AT&T is set to launch HBO Max, a subscription streaming video service and Netflix 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 earned 84 cents per share, missing analysts estimates of 85 cents, according to Refinitiv.
(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Neha Malara in Bengaluru, Arriana McLymore in Raleigh and North Carolina, Sheila Dang in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)