Verizon and AT&T Take Different Paths During Earnings Season and in M&A Views

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Earnings season always has a chance of bringing some rather unexpected surprises. That was certainly the case for Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) in January after it missed on earnings estimates. It turns out that the collateral damage spilled over into AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as well, but now AT&T with its own earnings report has recovered and is only down about 1% from before Verizon’s report.

What investors have to consider when weighing AT&T versus Verizon is how each company wants to align itself ahead. Are these carriers and distributors or are they content and advertising plays? The answer is some of each, but each company is taking a different path, and it means that earnings might be harder to predict down the road.

With Verizon missing earnings, now there is reported to be merger interest with Charter Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: CHTR). This would be a game-changer because Charter had a market cap of close to $95 billion before its shares popped 6%. Verizon shares were down another 1.5% on the reports, and that gave a $199.9 billion market cap. With shares right at $49 as of this report, that is down from above $52 prior to its earnings disappointment.

On top of Charter, Verizon has already acquired AOL. It is still evaluating what it plans to do in the Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) acquisition. Investors often welcome accretive mergers, but when companies become too diversified, sometimes it makes the acquirers much more difficult to evaluate. One more issue to consider after looking at the post-earnings research reports is that Verizon shares may have seemed to be overly punished.

AT&T has completed its acquisition of DirecTV, and this actually gives it even more dividend support. But after making acquisitions south of the U.S. border, now AT&T remains interested in acquiring Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX). What matters here is that Time Warner’s market cap is $74 billion, versus $255 billion for AT&T.

As far as how these companies stack up against each other, here are some basic notes:

  • AT&T’s yield is currently just over 4.7%, and it is valued at 14 times expected 2017 earnings per share.
  • Verizon’s yield is also right at 4.7%, but it is now valued at less than 13 times expected 2017 earnings per share.
  • Verizon is in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and AT&T was removed to make room for Apple.
  • Verizon is also the top yield in the Dogs of the Dow strategy.

It remains hard to judge how AT&T and Verizon are going to morph in the years ahead. Owning content comes with risks. Owning distribution comes with risks as well, with so many connectivity options on the market. What seems to be happening here is that these historic wireless, infrastructure and distribution giants are looking for ways to be relevant whether cord cutters continue their ambitions or not.

Then there is how fast 5G will progress. The new verdict seems to be that the 5G roll-out may not be anywhere nearly as fast as many consumers would like to see. In fact, many communities may not have 5G for another five years or so.

Verizon shares were last seen down 1.5% at $49.05, and almost 14% lower than its 52-week high of $56.95. AT&T shares were up 0.4% to $41.55, but down almost 5.5% from its 52-week high of $43.89.