In a wireless business that obsessively monitors customer churn and brand image, coming in last place by a long shot normally hurts. But Sprint is actually touting its dismal results.
"Sprint has not been able to turn the corner with respect to its core business challenges," the company wrote in a presentation to the FCC in September. "Sprint tried a more localized approach in an attempt to drive growth, but continues to face declining subscribers and revenue."
The presentation was part of Sprint's argument for the endorsement of its merger with T-Mobile, by using a "failing firm" defence to say that it won't be able to survive without the merger. And it's not just talk according to a new survey from Cowen Equity Research.
The Cowen survey found that among the "Big Four" carriers, Sprint's image fell to last place, the largest gap since Cowen started conducting the survey in 2013. The survey also found that Sprint respondents were the least happy of all and the most at risk of switching carriers.
Broadcasting the precarious state of a company's business isn't common. "By all accounts, it's an aggressive move and further suggests that Sprint will be in worse shape than it was previously if the deal does not go through," the Cowen report said. "It also in our view is accurate."
While the status of the merger is uncertain, Cowen moved the needle closer to affirming a T-Mobile-Sprint deal will close, assigning a 60% probability compared to the 50-50 chance the analysts predicted before. It appears the market is positively responding to the current status of the merger.
"Since last reporting ... [Sprint] is up 15.7%, [T-Mobile US] is up 15.2%, and [Verizon] is up 5.6% vs. the S&P which is down 1.1% the past three months," according to the survey. Those indicators reflect market belief of an improved probability the merger will close. It also indicates investors think a merger will benefit the broader industry.
But concern also exists over what a four-to-three would do to competition. The wireless market has rapidly contracted over the past roughly 15 years, from seven wireless carriers in 2002, to four, on the precipice of three, today. Pro-antitrust enforcement organizations say further contraction will cause harm.
"A Sprint-T-Mobile deal would further reduce the number of rivals from four to three, stoking even higher concentration in the national US wireless market and contributing to growing concerns over a broader systemic decline in competition, market entry, and equality in the U.S. economy," The American Antitrust Institute wrote in August.
A lack of competition in a marketplace generally benefits an individual company while harming consumers. Fewer choices enable a company to price fix, increasing the cost for goods and services while realizing a consumer has no other option but to pay. Mergers also often result in a loss of jobs that become unnecessary.
The Communications Workers of America, the largest communications union in the US, dispute claims that a joint T-Mobile-Sprint will create jobs, instead projecting that 28,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the merger.
But if you believe Sprint, and Wall Street analysts, the market could dwindle to three carriers anyway if Sprint's business continues to erode.
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