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AT&T Tops Q3 Revenue Forecasts on HBO, Phone Subscriber Gains

New AT&T CEO John Stankey said solid cash flows will enable the group to boost its annual dividend ratio and pay down debt, even after taking a third quarter earnings hit linked to the global coronavirus pandemic.

AT&T Inc.  (T)  posted stronger-than-expected third quarter revenues Thursday thanks in part to Street-beating additions to its media and wireless networks.  

AT&T said adjusted earnings for the three months ending in September were pegged at 76 cents per share, down 19% from the same period last year and largely in-line with Street forecasts even after taking what the company estimated to be a 21 cents per share earnings hit linked to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Group revenues, the company said, fell 5.2% to $42.3 billion, but that figure beat analysts' estimates of a $41.6 billion tally.

AT&T said subscribers to its HBO Max streaming service hit 38 million in the United States last quarter, a gain that puts it ahead of its 2020 target, while its wireless network added a much stronger-than-expected 645,000 new subscribers who pay a monthly bill.

“We delivered a solid quarter with good subscriber momentum in our market focus areas of connectivity and software-based entertainment,” said new CEO John Stankey, who replaced the outgoing Randall Stephenson earlier this summer. “Wireless postpaid growth was the strongest that it’s been in years with one million net additions, including 645,000 phones. We added more than 350,000 fiber broadband customers and are on track to grow our fiber base by more than 25% this year. And we continue to grow and scale HBO Max, with total domestic HBO and HBO Max subscribers topping 38 million — well ahead of our expectations for the full year. 

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"Our strong cash flow in the quarter positions us to continue investing in our growth areas and pay down debt," added. "We now expect 2020 free cash flow of $26 billion or higher with a full-year dividend payout ratio in the high 50s%.  

AT&T shares were marked 5.3% higher in early trading following the earnings release to change hands at $28.14 each, a move that narrow's the stock's six-month decline to around 4.5%.

WarnerMedia revenues, AT&T said, fell 10.7% to $7.5 billion as movie production was halted during the pandemic. Around 130 of those projects have re-started, the company said, but the group added it's 'not optimistic" with respect to movie theatre re-openings. 

Revenues from the mobility portion of its communications segment edged modestly higher to $17.9 billion.  

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