Light Reading

What's With AT&T's Capex Dip?

Dan O'Shea

Is AT&T slowing down its capital spending, or is it just "truing up"?

In a research note issued this morning, George Notter, managing director of communications infrastructure equity research at Jefferies & Company Inc. , wrote that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was observed by some vendors to have slowed down its capital spending in early or mid-April. "This commentary has been quite uniform among our industry contacts that do business on the Wireline side of AT&T's capital budget," the note said. "Now, our contacts -- broadly -- are experiencing shipment/revenue declines on the order of 50-65% relative to the month of March."

If that's the case, a number of vendors -- Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR), JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), andAlcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) among them -- could be affected. Ciena is due to report quarterly earnings this Thursday, so its call with analysts that day will bear close listening for any related commentary.

However, there are other possible explanations for the apparent decline. Notter wrote that a couple of his contacts have heard information suggesting that AT&T's spending could pick up again by next month, in which case the company simply might be "truing up" its spending in accordance with its full-year capex plan.

There also has been a perception that changes in AT&T's spending patterns could have something to do with its Supplier Domain 2.0 program. The carrier recently added more vendors to that program, and though its didn't change capex guidance, AT&T has suggested the cloud-related program "could reflect a downward bias" toward capex in the years to come. (See AT&T Adds Amdocs, Juniper to Cloud Roster.)

Notter's finding contrasts with the observation this year by the Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF) research team that AT&T might be spending its capital budget this year in a more linear, less seasonal fashion than it traditionally has. The team found that AT&T spent 27% of its full-year capex budget during the first quarter, counter to the traditional average of about 21%. (See Capex Trend Points to Less Seasonality – Analysts.)

AT&T knows which explanation is the right one, but it isn't saying. The telco has been strangely quiet with the vendor community about the recent spending dip.

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
6/3/2014 | 1:47:26 PM
Re: DirecTV
Yes, it would seen that the DirecTV deal would certainly be a large influence one way or the other in coming expenditure planning. But whether this is just a coincidence or a trend that may reach massively into the future is probably a lot of tea leaf  reading for anyone outside the AT&T inner sanctum. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/3/2014 | 8:51:39 AM
Re: DirecTV
Exactly, Carol. How precisely do you deploy 1 Gbps service to 100 cities while your CAPEX continues to decline? 
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
6/3/2014 | 4:37:17 AM
Re: DirecTV
This adds more fuel to the fiery debate around AT&T's big "gigabit" plans - how are they going to add double-digit cities to the gigabit service plan without spending capex? 
R Clark
R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
6/3/2014 | 3:39:42 AM
The path of truing never ran smooth
Does 'truing' make you a 'truther'?

User Rank: Blogger
6/2/2014 | 9:40:37 PM
There's also the issue here of what effect will the DirecTV deal have on capex? Big acquisitions have a way of forcing everything else onto the back burner.
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