Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) shares have risen nearly 15% in the past six days to $5.96, based on rumors that it may be married to more successful carrier T-Mobile US Inc. (NASDAQ: TMUS). Merger talks have happened before and have broken down. If the deal does not materialize, Sprint will fall back to its tenuous position as the number four carrier in the United States, embattled by three larger rivals in a market that is not growing.
Sprint’s shares continue to trade well below their 52-week high of $9.22, an indication that traders do not believe a T-Mobile deal will bring much of a premium. The CEO of Softbank, dealmaker Masayoshi Son, who controls Sprint, has run out of options. And he has moved on to bigger things with his $100 billion Vision Fund, which is making tech investments across the world. For him, Sprint is barely a distraction.
In the quarter that ended on December 31, Sprint faltered again, although its bottom line looked better than in most quarters over the past three years. Revenue was $8.2 billion, down from $8.5 billion in the year-ago period. Operating income was $727 million, up from $311 million the year before. As part of the earnings, Sprint announced:
Sprint’s execution in both its postpaid and prepaid businesses resulted in the highest retail net additions in nearly three years. Postpaid net additions of 256,000 in the quarter included 184,000 phone net additions, the tenth consecutive quarter of postpaid phone net additions.
While these numbers are improving, they are very small compared to its three larger rivals.
And Sprint continues to suffer from poor ratings of its network quality and service. Sprint ranked at the bottom of Consumer Reports’ most recent study of cell phone service plans.
Sprint needs a T-Mobile merger badly. It is the only hope that Sprint can have much of a future. Investor disappointment will be profound if no M&A transaction happens, enough that its shares will drop below where they were when the merger rumors began.