NEW YORK (The Deal) -- In the coming months, Sprint (S) plans to launch a pair of off-balance sheet partnerships with Softbank Group (SFTBY) that will relieve the carrier of the burden of financing customer handsets and network equipment.
CEO Marcelo Claure has said the new vehicles will allow Sprint to revive operations without taking on more debt, selling equity or auctioning some of its wireless spectrum. The leasing companies are among a number of steps Sprint has taken recently to conserve cash, which the wireless carrier has been consuming at a prodigious rate. The Overland Park, Kan. telecom has also said it will sit out a government auction for coveted wireless spectrum licenses next year and reportedly plans $2.5 billion in cuts. Meanwhile, parent Softbank has boosted its stake in the company.
The company's cash burn caused Moody's Investors Service to cut Sprint's credit rating by two notches in mid-September, from B1 to B3. "We're very skeptical about their ability to stabilize their operations and turn around their performance," said Moody's analyst Dennis Saputo.
Sprint's brand and its networks lag, the analyst said. The company's spectrum strategy has meandered, he suggested, and Moody's expects the company to burn $9 billion in cash in calendar years 2015 and 2016. "On top of that the company continues to have a very substantial debt load and starting in December 2016 maturities are going to ramp up to the tune of $2.5 billionon an annual basis for the following six years," Saputo added.
Chairman Masayoshi Son's plan to take the U.S. market has been more complicated, and costly, than initially planned. If Sprint can make it through next year, however, the company could get help from Washington, D.C. While the Obama administration has clearly favored a wireless industry with four national competitors, a Republican administration might be more open to consolidation. Masa dropped merger talks with T-Mobile USA (TMUS) last year, acknowledging that regulators would likely squelch the deal. A Trump administration, or that of another Republican, might look more favorably on consolidation, especially if Sprint deteriorates and has questionable viability as an independent carrier.
The success of the new financing vehicles and Softbank's commitment to the investment are major factors in Sprint's outlook.
Softbank acquired Sprint in 2013 for $21.6 billion. Sprint would have more cash to address its liquidity squeeze if not for Dish Network (DISH) Chairman Charlie Ergen, who launched a competing bid for Sprint and forced Softbank to increase its bid. Ergen also challenged Sprint's rollup of Clearwire (CLWR) , increasing the price of the deal for Sprint.
At the end of the June, Sprint had about $2.3 billion in cash. The company could tap another $2.9 billion or so from its revolving credit facility. Sprint has an additional $1.4 billion available from its financing agreement backed by receivables and $1.3 billion in vendor financing. The telecom has $34 billion in debt.