For Sprint Corp (NYSE:S) stock, the number in the fiscal Q3 report that really mattered was subscriber growth. A profit would have been nice news for Sprint stock holders, to be sure.
But all 17 analysts covering S stock that provided estimates for the quarter expected a loss, as did most investors. Promotional activity over the holidays was intense across the industry, and Sprint was no exception. The company still is investing in its network — though it did sit out the 2016 spectrum auction — and the multiyear turnaround plans still are in their early stages.
A new advertising campaign targeting Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) with its own former spokesman still has time to play out. And with the heavy financial backing of Softbank Group Corp (OTCMKTS:SFTBF), near-term bankruptcy concerns seem off the table.
So what Sprint needed to provide in its Q4 report was subscriber growth, and on that count, the quarter looks like a modest success. As the company pointed out, Sprint added more subscribers than Verizon or AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T).
And with good news elsewhere in the report, Sprint stock should have more upside — even after tripling in less than a year.
Net Subscriber Growth Is Good News For Sprint Stock
Again, the subscriber numbers were key in the Sprint earnings report, since those subscribers provide the base for the continuing turnaround in Sprint stock.
And the numbers look good.
Sprint added 577,000 customers on a net basis, with gross additions the company’s highest in four years. Postpaid customers (i.e., those on a monthly billing plan) increased by 366,000 net; that base has grown by almost 800,000 over the past year, or nearly 3%.
Notably, Sprint beat both Verizon and AT&T despite not offering the same level of discounting. For instance, both rivals offered free Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones — an offer Sprint didn’t match.
And while prepaid subscriber count declined, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Prepaid customers generated an average of $27.61 per month in revenue in the quarter. The figure for postpaid subscribers was near $50. Trading prepaid subscribers for postpaid customers is a good thing for Sprint, and another reason why the Sprint earnings report seems like good news.
Elsewhere, The News for Sprint Is Mixed
That said, it wasn’t a blowout quarter for Sprint, and choppy pre-market trading in S stock implies the market still is making it up its mind about the earnings report.
Sprint’s net loss was larger than expected, as EPS missed consensus by 4 cents. Sprint remains unprofitable, with its net loss for the quarter almost $500 million.
There’s still a long way to go in the company’s turnaround. Indeed, while the company bragged about beating AT&T and Verizon in terms of postpaid subscriber additions, it’s worth pointing out that Sprint has an easier time growing because it’s smaller, and because it has underperformed those rivals for some time.
Still, there’s more than enough here for optimism going forward toward Sprint stock.
Full-year guidance moved to the high end for both adjusted EBITDA and operating income. Sprint’s debt was upgraded by Moody’s in the quarter — quite an achievement for a company surrounded by bankruptcy fears less than a year ago. An innovative issuance of debt backed by Sprint’s wireless spectrum has added cash at a much lower interest rate, giving Sprint breathing room as other debt comes due over the next two years.
The work isn’t done, to be sure, and Sprint needs to get to profitability at some point. (It hasn’t been profitable on a GAAP basis since 2006.)
While the loss in this quarter’s Sprint earnings report appears to be wider than expected, there is additional room for cost-cutting. The spectrum-backed debt has lowered interest expense already; a refinancing of Sprint’s revolving credit facility may add further savings.
Bottom Line for Sprint Stock
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in the Q3 release that “Sprint is turning the corner.” Truthfully, I’m not sure the company quite is that far along in its turnaround. But it’s close — and getting closer — to profitability, which would be a major milestone.
Clearly, Sprint is back toward being able to compete not only with AT&T and Verizon, but T-Mobile US Inc (NASDAQ:TMUS), which hasn’t always been the case. So, overall, Sprint earnings look positive for S stock — even if the actual earnings themselves could have been a bit better. With subscribers growing, and the debt situation improving, Sprint has time.
And if it keeps performing like it did in Q3, Sprint stock should continue to perform like it did in 2016.
As of this writing, Vince Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.