AT&T Bows to Some Elliot Management Demands

Dan Jones
10/28/2019

AT&T laid out a three-year financial and strategic plan during its third-quarter call on Monday morning, promising "no major acquisitions" during that time, to make $5 to $10 billion from selling non-core assets and to add two new board members. The announcement was partly a response to activist hedge-fund Elliot Management.

Elliot Management has acquired a 1% stake in AT&T over the year, and agitated for major change at the carrier, claiming it will unlock shareholder value. The fund cheered AT&T's plan.

"We commend AT&T for the positive steps announced today, which will create substantial and enduring shareholder value at one of America’s greatest companies," Elliott Partner Jesse Cohn and Associate Portfolio Manager Marc Steinberg said in a statement today. "We have worked closely and collaboratively with management and the Board on the initiatives announced today. It is clear to us that AT&T is committed to and accountable for creating shareholder value over the near- and long-term."

As well as saying there would be no major acquisitions until 2022, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said that he will stay on as CEO through 2020, but noted the AT&T board is looking at replacement candidates. The company would also split the chairman and CEO roles when Stephenson departs the company, after his 11-year tenure there.

Aside from its long-term plans, AT&T also released third-quarter financial earnings. On the wireless side, Ma Bell is expecting its 5G handset sales to increase in 2020. AT&T has only sold 5G devices to select businesses and developers so far in 2019.

AT&T is expecting to launch its lowband (probably 700MHz) nationwide 5G services in mid-2020. It has highband 39GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G in parts of 21 US cities live now. AT&T has several 5G devices available now, but it doesn’t sell them to the general public yet.

CFO John Stephens said AT&T could still spend on spectrum acquisitions going forward. "With regard to the C-Band and others, certainly we'll be interested," Stephens said.

For the quarter, AT&T's wireless business added 255,000 net phone adds. Wireless service revenue was up 0.7%.

AT&T's consolidated revenue for the third quarter was $44.59 billion and down 2.5% year-over-year. Net income fell 18% to $3.95 billion in the quarter.

AT&T shares are at $36.68, up $1.81, or 4.91%, following its earnings call.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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