January 10, 2019
To fiscal hawks, AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner heightened concerns regarding the telecom’s burgeoning corporate debt.
In an era of shrinking pay-TV households and industry consolidation, Wall Street hasn’t taken lightly to AT&T’s $183 billion debt through the third quarter (ended Sept. 30, 2018) following the acquisition.
The company’s stock was down more than 20% at the end of 2018 with a debt ratio of 2.8. The net debt to pre-tax earnings ratio indicates how many years it would take for a company to pay back its debt if net debt and pre-tax earnings are held constant.
Wall Street looks for a company to have a debt ratio between 0.3 and 0.6, according to some analysts. AT&T has pledged to reduce its debt by $20 billion in 2019, at debt ratio to 2.5.
Speaking Jan. 9 at the Citi 2019 Global TMT West confab in Las Vegas, AT&T CFO John Stephens reiterated management’s vow to streamline debt through cost-cutting and asset sales — including its stake in Hulu.
Stephens also reminded analysts that with interest rates at historically low levels, combined with President Trump’s 40% cut to corporate tax rates, debt can be viewed from a different perspective.
“You lower your federal tax rate by 40%, it has an impact. And it’s real. And it’s economic. It’s cash,” Stephens said. “When you think about those two changes, I understand how people might have a differing view on leverage levels. We’re sticking to what we’ve told you and we’re really focused – laser focused on 2019 and getting it into that 2.5 range.”