Sprint (NYSE:S) continues to remain in limbo. Amid a merger in jeopardy and a disappointing earnings report, Sprint stock had fallen even as that of its buyer-in-waiting, T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS), steadily rises. Sprint stock spiked higher on Monday as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appeared to green light the merger.
However, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) set to block the union, Sprint has again begun to fall. Worse, given the known state of Sprint’s 5G network, one has to wonder if it can remain a viable entity without the help of T-Mobile. Given these conditions, Sprint stock offers no viable investment options for shareholders.
FCC, DOJ on Opposing Sides
Sprint stock surged higher by almost 19% in Monday trading as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave his approval to the merger. Before this announcement, S stock traded more than 20% below the price T-Mobile guaranteed to Sprint shareholders if the deal took place. With FCC approval, much of that gap had closed.
However, the stock fell back by more than 3% in Wednesday trading as antitrust staffers at the DOJ recommended blocking the deal. Now, political appointees within the DOJ must decide whether to file a suit to block the agreement. Most expect a final decision within a month. Whatever happens, it brings further uncertainty to a deal seen as both controversial and inevitable.
Expect Some Kind of Merger
Investors need to understand that a merger will occur whether or not a merger occurs. The government can allow T-Mobile to buy Sprint’s assets. It can also let Sprint decline. If Sprint folds, some or all of the remaining 5G players could buy Sprint’s assets in the bankruptcy process. As my colleague Dana Blankenhorn suggests, they could also face better-heeled players such as Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) buying Sprint’s assets. Hence, few in the telco industry will win if the DOJ blocks the deal.
Our own James Brumley spells out this case in greater detail. I agree with him that regulators know that the market may end up with only three 5G players regardless of their decision on the merger. Still, predicting if and when a deal occurs remains the challenge.
Sprint Stock Is Not an Investment
As a result, Sprint stock has ceased to serve as an investment. Both the numbers and management’s illustration of the network leave investors with few reasons to choose S stock over AT&T (NYSE:T) or Verizon (NYSE:VZ). CEO Michael Combes even declined to answer a question as to whether the company can offer nationwide coverage if the T-Mobile merger does not occur.
By itself, this makes Sprint’s 5G less valuable than that of its three direct peers. That bodes poorly for a company with $28.27 billion in book value and $36.28 billion in long-term debt.
In fairness, the stocks of AT&T and Verizon also face their challenges. Due to the cost of a 5G buildout and other factors, both companies face heavy debt loads. In AT&T’s case, a move into media content has placed further pressure on that equity. As a result, both stocks support low multiples.
However, one can still classify those companies as investments. Lower stock prices have given both AT&T and Verizon some of the highest dividend yields in the S&P 500. Sprint cannot afford a payout at all. Moreover, both AT&T and Verizon have increased their payouts every year for decades. 5G will probably finance these dividend increases in the future. Hence, even if these equities remain somewhat depressed, they can still deliver shareholder return.
A Deal Is the Only Hope for Sprint Stock
The merger has become the only known possibility for Sprint stock to deliver further significant upside. Since holders of S stock will receive 0.10256 shares of T-Mobile stock, this translates into a purchase price of about $7.85 per share as of the time of this writing. With the current Sprint stock price of around $7 per share, that represents a premium of almost 12%. Without the deal, traders will probably watch Sprint become the Sears Holdings (OTCMKTS:SHLDQ) of the wireless industry as it gradually bleeds out.
In the end, we do not know what regulators will do. Hence, I mostly agree with my colleague Vince Martin that Sprint stock has become a gamble. However, I see this as a poor gamble, as we do not know when government regulators will make their final decision.
The Bottom Line on Sprint Stock
Sprint stock offers little hope for investor returns outside of the formal approval of the T-Mobile merger. Given its financial condition, Sprint will struggle to build a nationwide 5G network without some help. Hence, a takeover of some kind will likely occur regardless of what regulators may think.
This leaves holders of Sprint stock with only gambling instead of investing options. They either bet on government approval, or they witness an almost-certain drop into penny-stock status. With the FCC and DOJ at cross purposes, what will happen is anyone’s guess.
People who want to gamble might have better luck (and certainly more fun) at a blackjack table. Those who wish to invest will likely see higher returns in the equities of AT&T, Verizon or that of their prospective suitor.
As of this writing, Will Healy did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow Will on Twitter at @HealyWriting.