Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Report and Charter Communications (CHTR) - Get Report have the resources to buy Sprint (S) - Get Report , as recent reports have placed the companies in talks to reseller the carrier's services, possibly in exchange for equity stakes or even an acquisition. However, Comcast and Charter have no real need to take on a debt-laden, fourth-placed wireless carrier. Moody's Investors Service analyst Neil Begley suggests that the cable companies will pass on an acquisition, but could reach a different type of deal with Sprint.
Even with the backing of Softbank (SFTBY) founder Masayoshi Son, Sprint is challenged.
"It has a lot of debt and it's the weakest carrier," Begley explained.
Sprint's nearly $36 billion in long term debt at the end of the fourth fiscal quarter exceeds its $32.5 billion in market cap.
Meanwhile, the carrier's 31.5 million post-paid subscribers at the end of the first quarter put it in fourth place, behind T-Mobile USA Inc. (TMUS) - Get Report 35.3 million subs, AT&T Inc.'s (T) - Get Report 77.3 million and Verizon Communications Inc's (VZ) - Get Report 108.5 million.
Sprint is no longer a "falling knife," Begley said, but competes against well-capitalized telecoms and needs to invest more in its network while reducing its debt load.
"The other guys, particularly AT&T and Verizon, are spending tens of billions of dollars on their network every single year and these guys have not," Begley said.
Comcast and Charter could each invest about $10 billion in Sprint without hurting their credit ratings, Begley suggested. That would not cover a full acquisition of Sprint but could get the cable companies a sizable stake, if they were interested.
Without the support of Softbank, which invested $21.6 billion in the telecom in 2013, Moody's would cut Sprint's credit rating from its current B2 to B3. "That's among the lowest ratings we have for someone who doesn't look like they are about to default," Begley said.
Comcast and Charter have agreements to resell Verizon's wireless service under their own brands.
The cable companies could seek a better resale deal for Sprint, Begley suggested. They could even keep their deal with Verizon and add a resale agreement with Sprint.
"Who knows whats going to be a competitive advantage in 10 years or less for that matter, once we start looking at every product being connected," Begley said.
With artificial intelligence and applications playing a bigger role in communications, entertainment and myriad services, network overloads or speed limitations could be crippling. "Having the potential of being able to access two networks could possibly result in a competitive advantage for someone like Comcast," Begley said, acknowledging that the theory could be a stretch.
A resale agreement could survive a merger of Sprint and T-Mobile USA, giving the cable operators access to a stronger network.
"Charter and Comcast are in the catbird seat," Begley said. "I don't think either of these companies needs to jump on this right now."
Charter declined to comment. Comcast and Sprint did not immediately respond to queries.