In a stark turnaround from last year, only Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ - Get Report) launched a new phone promotion on Black Friday, according to Wave 7 Research. Last year's provocateur, T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS - Get Report) , and the other carriers continued existing deals rather than lure customers with lavish promotions for Apple Inc.'s (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone X.
"Three of four carriers changed nothing of note for Black Friday," Wave 7 principal analyst Jeff Moore wrote in a weekend report. "Verizon, however, has run TV ads touting a one-day offer of 50% off top Android phones -- with upgrading customers included.
The tepid promotional outlook provides an early read on the competitive outlook after the termination of deal talks between T-Mobile and Sprint Corp. (S - Get Report) . While a larger field of wireless carriers arguably should increase competition, Sprint and T-Mobile may be paying closer attention to the fundamentals of their business. AT&T Inc. (T - Get Report) is scrambling to close its purchase of Time Warner Inc. (TWX) for $108.7 billion including assumed debt, despite a Department of Justice effort to quash the deal. The telecom may have other priorities for its cash than expensive mobile promos.
In the wake of Black Friday, Verizon shares had gained 1.3% Monday morning to $47.65.
AT&T shares were off 0.4% to $34.67. On Black Friday, Moore noted, the telecom continued a late October offer of a free iPhone 8 with the purchase of an iPhone X and a new line. AT&T also offered discounts on Amazon.com Inc.'s (AMZN - Get Report) Echo and Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL - Get Report) Google Home devices.
T-Mobile, whose shares were down 0.3% to $61.49 Monday morning, shook things up last Black Friday. The carrier offered a "Ditch Verizon" offer a year ago promising to pay off customers' balance on their iPhone SE, 6S, 7 or other models if they switched.
This year, however, the carrier stuck with an existing offer. Moore noted that since mid-November, T-Mobile has had a buy-one-get-one promotion for iPhone 8 or Plus; an iPhone 7 or Plus; a Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus; and other models.
Likewise, Sprint sat tight with existing offers. Its stock was up 0.6% to $6.19 on Monday. "Sprint has no major new Black Friday offers and instead continues with its rotisserie of promos, leading with the offer of 50% off top Galaxy devices with [a] new line," Moore wrote.
The lack of promotions for Apple's iPhone X was surprising, Jeffrey Kvaal of Instinet LLC wrote, though the holiday shopping weekend still carried good tidings for the Cupertino, Calif., device maker.
"[T-Mobile] noted that the X has seen great demand and better supply than anticipated," Kvaal wrote. "Both [T-Mobile] and [Verizon] expect X demand to spill into March. Fewer promos likely recognize the telcos are selling all they have."
Demand for the iPhone X is not the only force muting the competitive offers, however. Sprint and T-Mobile dropped merger talks earlier in November. Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson LLC suggested in a report that as the telecoms adjust to life without a megadeal -- and $30 billion in savings and other benefits -- they may focus more on cash and share value.
"First, robbed of the prospect of a merger -- at least for now -- Sprint will now have to focus on sustainability," Moffett wrote. "That means less, not more, promotionality."
For its part, T-Mobile has said it will return more cash to shareholders. "That, too, likely means less, not more, promotionality," Moffett added.
AT&T, meanwhile, is still pushing to close the Time Warner deal despite the DOJ lawsuit to block the transaction. If AT&T prevailed, the telecom would have a large pile of debt to pay down.
Maybe it's not surprising therefore, given all that, that Verizon was the only carrier with a new offer on Black Friday.
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