Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is set to report its third-quarter financial results before the markets open on Tuesday. The consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters call for a net loss of $0.28 per share on $8.69 billion in revenue. The same period from the previous year had a net loss of $0.46 per share on $8.84 billion in revenue.
It is not that Sprint management has done an awful job as its attempts to right a sinking ship, or that the number four wireless company has not matched or bettered the offerings to consumers by its three larger rivals. Sprint plays in the “zero sum” game of the wireless industry, where most gains come from stealing market share. Brand power, distribution and quality rule in a business where all companies have the same products and nearly the same subscription plans for customers.
According to Strategic Analytics, there were 370 million wireless subscriptions in the fourth quarter, counting both retail and wholesale. The U.S. population is under 320 million. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) have about 250 million of those subscriptions. While Verizon and AT&T are barely growing, Sprint is losing ground and T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE: TMUS) is growing. Both of the smaller companies lack the balance sheet heft of the two larger ones. Eventually this will tell in infrastructure, marketing muscle and the ability to bid for spectrum. AT&T’s buyout of DirecTV presumably will give it a chance to cross-sell customers and build or at least hold its own.
While Sprint and T-Mobile sometimes do well in quality rankings, these are dominated by AT&T and Verizon. Verizon and AT&T did well in the recent J.D. Power survey of service by region. In the most recent ACSI survey, the carriers rank closer to one another. For smaller carriers to take market share, each at least has to boast some superiority in service.
Ahead of earnings, a few analysts weighed in on Sprint:
- Wells Fargo reiterated a Buy rating.
- Nomura initiated coverage with a Neutral rating and a $4 price target.
- Citigroup has a Neutral rating but boosted the price target to $4.50 from $4.
So far in 2015, Sprint has outperformed the broad markets, with the stock up 14% year to date. However, over the past 52 weeks the stock is down 21%.
Shares of Sprint were trading up 3% at $4.87 Monday, with a consensus analyst price target of $7.28 and a 52-week trading range of $3.10 to $6.25.