The testimony phase of the merger trial for Sprint and T-Mobile is over, and analysts don't expect a ruling in the case for another month, at least.
There are plenty of opinions on whether Sprint and T-Mobile will be allowed to merge, and there's also a possibility that the companies could reach a settlement with the state attorneys general.
"We think the case is close and both sides probably think they are winning," wrote the Wall Street analysts at New Street Research in a note to investors this weekend. "In such a situation in a commercial litigation, we would see the prospects of settlement as fairly high."
"As a reminder, after the lawsuit started on December 9, we lowered our odds of deal approval probability from 85% to 55% given 14 State AG remaining on the lawsuit, and more importantly the lack of a 3rd settlement strengthening and quickening the ability of DISH to become a 4th facilities based 5G competitor," wrote the analysts at Wall Street research firm Raymond James in a note to investors this weekend.
"Our optimism continues to grow about T-Mobile's ability to prevail in the State AG lawsuit challenging its acquisition of Sprint," wrote the analysts at Lightshed partners in a post last week. "We have sat through eight days of testimony and we believe the State AGs have failed to make a compelling enough case that justifies a District Court Judge effectively overruling the decisions of two federal agencies."
The Department of Justice and the FCC are the two federal agencies that have approved the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. However, roughly a dozen state attorneys general filed a lawsuit to block the deal, arguing it would unfairly reduce competition in the US wireless industry.
Interestingly, the analysts at New Street noted that, based on Sprint and T-Mobile's share prices, Wall Street investors increasingly appear to believe the merger will be blocked.
The Raymond James analysts noted that both sides in the case have until Jan. 8 to submit "factual findings" to the judge, and then will make their closing arguments a week later. "Therefore, unless we get a settlement, we would not expect a decision until February," the analysts wrote. "And with T-Mobile only wanting to close on the first day of the month and only on the first or second month of a quarter, we expect an April 1 closing if the Judge rules in favor of the defendants."
The heart of the case
Unlike a typical criminal case involving 12 jurors, the Sprint/T-Mobile merger trial will be decided by one person: US District Judge Victor Marrero. According to his Wikipedia page, Marrero worked in various New York government jobs for years before he was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1999 to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
According to analysts, his decision appears to hinge on whether he believes Dish Network is a suitable replacement for Sprint as a fourth nationwide wireless provider. If Marrero is convinced that Charlie Ergen's Dish would grow into a viable nationwide 5G player, he could approve the proposed merger. If Marrero decides that Dish -- which initially would act as a T-Mobile MVNO while it builds its network -- isn't a viable replacement for Sprint, he could rule against the two carriers.
The ruling could have significant implications for the wider telecom industry. Without the merger, T-Mobile might bargain for access to Dish's vast spectrum holdings. Sprint, meanwhile, might sell itself to a cable company, or set itself up as a regional wireless provider, competing in only a handful of larger markets.
A successful merger could pave the way for Sprint and T-Mobile to combine their customers and spectrum holdings into a carrier that would rival both AT&T and Verizon in size and scope. Dish, meanwhile, has promised to enter the wireless industry first as a low-cost MVNO for T-Mobile, with 9 million prepaid customers from Sprint, and later as a 5G network operator.