is gearing up for a little wireless-portability party of its own next year.
After five years in which its two main businesses languished as standalone stocks, Sprint will pull the wireless unit back into the main tent next year, say analysts and investors familiar with the company. That will mean swapping shares of the main old-line telco, Sprint FON group, for the sagging tracking stock of the
The company is expected to outline its plans during an analyst day briefing in early February. The exchange of FON stock for PCS shares should take place later in the spring.
The company believes pulling Sprint PCS back in will boost the fortunes of the entire group by providing far greater operational efficiency. Investors like the move because it could make the entire Sprint constellation a more attractive takeover play, and note that it could give the earthbound PCS stock a boost as buyback day nears.
Any potential upside is understandably attractive to Sprint investors. Shares of Sprint FON have suffered during the company's growth- and liquidity-based tribulations of recent years. Meanwhile, PCS has been one of the few wireless stocks to sit out the sector's furious rally this year, hit by worries about customer loss, or churn. On Monday, PCS rose 26 cents to $4.61 and FON rose 18 cents to $15.56.
A Sprint rep declined to comment on the timing of the recombination, but CEO Gary Forsee has repeatedly said that "a recombination of the stocks is likely at some point."
As the No. 4 long distance company and the fourth largest of six national wireless companies, Sprint has faced a host of challenges -- including market share loss, revenue erosion and subscriber shrinkage -- during the three-year telecom recession. And its shareholders have certainly suffered during the five years that PCS has traded on its own (see charts).
Company executives have stressed that folding the wireless unit back under the main tent will offer operational efficiencies and a chance to reduce redundancies. Along those lines, Sprint said Monday that it would
fire another 2,000 of its 44,000 employees by the end of the year.
But some investors are betting that the recombination will provide a slight upside to PCS shareholders and potentially lift the valuation of the combined company.
Once the recombination is announced and the move is approved, bankers will have to determine an equitable exchange of FON stock for PCS shares. That will involve comparative valuations and a possible premium for PCS holders, say some investors who are long PCS.
For example, from a valuation-per-subscriber standpoint, PCS shares currently hover around $1,100 per user, vs. the industry average of $1,700. Of course, other numbers will enter the equation as well.
Sprint bulls also say the recombined company makes for a more attractive entity, especially to Bells like
that may be looking for a quick way to jump into the business services market, when and if consolidation ever takes off in telecom.
But as observers point out, Verizon has a $45 billion debt problem to worry about, and isn't likely to feel an overwhelming need to add Sprint's more than $15 billion in net debt to the ledger.
And while a recombination gives PCS shareholders some reason to be optimistic, it doesn't change any of the fundamentals for Sprint, which is still stuck near the back of the Big Phone pack.