Sprint’s Subscriber Numbers Fall, Posts Profit on Clearwire Gain

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Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) reported third-quarter 2013 results before markets opened Wednesday morning. The country’s third largest wireless carrier posted revenues of $8.68 billion and an operating loss of $398 million. Thanks to its majority owner, SoftBank Corp., the company was able to show a profit of $383 million, primarily on a one-time gain on the write-up of Sprint’s stake in Clearwire. The consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters for Sprint revenues was $8.69 billion.

Not that any of this makes any real difference. Sprint is merely a tracking stock these days, but it is worth looking over its subscriber numbers. The company said it sold nearly 5 million smartphones in the third quarter, including 1.4 million iPhones from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), of which 40% were sold to new subscribers.

Sprint lost 360,000 postpaid subscribers in the third quarter, compared with the second quarter of 2013, and gained 84,000 prepaid subscribers. The company also added 181,000 wholesale and affiliate subscribers. Subscribers at the end of third quarter totaled 54.88 million, down from 55.96 million at the end of the 2012 third quarter, but up from 53.59 million at the end of the 2013 second quarter, an overall gain of about 1.44 million.

Compared with wireless giants AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Sprint’s subscriber numbers look poor. Sequentially, AT&T added 363,000 subscribers in the third quarter and Verizon added 927,000. Sprint’s loss of 360,000 postpaid subscribers does not stack up, but in total subscribers (postpaid plus prepaid plus wholesale and affiliates), Sprint added 1.44 million subscribers sequentially.

The churn rate for postpaid subscribers was flat year-over-year at 2.09%, but the prepaid churn rate rose from 3.37% a year ago to 3.78% this year.

Average revenue per user (ARPU) for retail postpaid subscribers rose from $61.18 a year ago to $63.69. Prepaid ARPU slipped slightly from $26.77 to $26.38.

For what it is worth, Sprint shares were off about 1% at $6.61 in early trading Wednesday morning. The stock’s 52-week range is $5.61 to $7.26. The consensus target price for the shares was around $7.30 before this report.

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