On Tuesday, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T)’s Chief Executive Randall Stephenson, speaking to a group of investors, rubbished the rumor that AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) was looking at the acquisition of DISH Network Corp (NASDAQ:DISH) as a viable strategic option for the telecom giant. He also made it clear to those in attendance that following the company’s failed bid for T-Mobile in 2011, that he didn’t see U.S. regulators allowing the company to further consolidate the telecom industry. In fact, Stephenson said that U.S. regulators believe that having four major carriers is a top priority and that they would balk at anything that lowered this number. He believes that regulators may even extend this to the video business to promote competition.
Europe would likely be the next battlefield for AT&T
Rather than appear distressed by these beliefs, Stephenson made investors’ eyebrows rise when he signaled that Europe would likely be the next battlefield for AT&T. While no guarantee, Stephenson made it clear that AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) would look to purchase the remainder of Vodafone’s European assets once it has closed the deal to rid itself of its stake in Verizon Communications.
The closing of that deal is expected in the first quarter of 2014. While Verizon is using a huge debt offering to make the deal happen, Mr. Stephenson signaled to investors that AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) would only go forward if it could maintain its leverage ratio and credit rating, suggesting that equity holdings will be the cornerstone of any deal for Vodafone Group Plc (NASDAQ:VOD) (LON:VOD).
AT&T has enjoyed tremendous success
AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) has enjoyed tremendous success pushing U.S. consumers down the path of higher data usage and lucrative pricing models; something that AT&T would like to mimic with European consumers in spite of a variety of obstacles not limited to the continental slowdown.
These hurdles will include a massive investment in network improvement and a big turnaround in Europe’s struggling economies. Additionally, the European telecom market is highly competitive and highly regulated. According to Stephenson, European rules that control how long a company can control their portion of the wireless spectrum is not only daunting but discourage investment.
Stephenson essentially echoed the concerns of others. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) chief Lowell McAdam also suggested on Tuesday that it was exactly these challenges that prompted Verizon to forgo buying all of Vodafone Group Plc (NASDAQ:VOD) (LON:VOD) and instead retain a U.S. focus, referring to European telecom as “overregulated.”
AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) has dealt with regulation before, they just did it in English.