Cord cutting and the fate of the Time Warner Inc. (TWX) deal are top of investors' minds as AT&T Inc. (T) gets ready to report third-quarter earnings after the market close Thursday. The damage from hurricanes and earthquakes and the state of the wireless business amid a sluggish iPhone upgrade cycle so far are other important topics for the telecom and pay-TV giant.
Wall Street expects AT&T to report earnings of 74 cents per share off sales of $40.1 billion on Thursday. The company hosts an investor call at 4.30 p.m. ET.
Shares of AT&T were down 0.6% at $35.03 ahead of the report. Shares are down 17.6% so far this year. Meanwhile, Time Warner was down 0.3% to $101.00 Thursday, a discount to the $107.50 in stock and cash that AT&T is paying for it. Time Warner shares are up 4.8% this year.
Concerns about cord cutting have been mounting recently. Verizon (VZ) reported a third-quarter loss of 18,000 net FiOS video subscribers on Thursday, while Comcast (CMCSA) said in early September that it expects to lose 100,000 to 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter. "Given cable and VZ's recent commentary, the trend in linear video has become a clear focus for investors," Wells Fargo Securities LLC analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote in an earnings preview.
On the wireless side, Cowen & Co. analyst Colby Synesael expects AT&T to lose 172,000 postpaid phone subscriptions in the quarter, down from his prior estimate of 222,000 losses.
The slow start to this year's iPhone cycle may help AT&T by muting competition for new subscribers between the carriers, with customers potentially passing on the iPhone 8 in favor of the iPhone X. Pre-orders for the new Apple (AAPL) phone start Friday, and the device will start shipping Nov. 3.
AT&T said in October that it had nearly 900,000 fewer third-quarter phone upgrades from a year ago. "As for the lower upgrades, we suspect many customers are awaiting the iPhone X in November before making device purchasing decisions," Cowen's Synesael wrote, suggesting that competition will become more aggressive after the most-expensive iPhone ever hits the market.
The telecom also plans to start reporting the number of its Internet of things connections -- primarily connected cars at this point. In October, AT&T pre-announced that its net IoT adds totaled 97,000 in the quarter.
AT&T said Monday that it has delayed the termination date for its merger with Time Warner. AT&T is buying the media company for $85.4 billion, or $108.7 billion including debt. The carrier said only that it would push out the date at which the parties can walk under some circumstances "for a short period of time," but did not set a new date.
Brazilian anti-trust regulators approved the deal on Oct. 18, AT&T said, meaning that the deal partners only need clearance from the Department of Justice.
Hurricanes in the Southeastern U.S. and earthquakes in Mexico should impact AT&T's financials. The company acquired Mexican wireless carriers Iusacell and Nextel Mexico in 2015, and AT&T's DirecTV unit offers satellite television throughout Latin America.
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