AT&T stock (NYSE:T) has run its Wednesday gain to 6.2% after its fourth-quarter results beat expectations on profitability and the communications company offered a free cash flow outlook largely in line with forecasts.
Wednesday marked AT&T’s best one-day gain since Oct. 20, and it brought the stock to its highest point since last July.
Normalized earnings per share of $0.61 beat expectations by 4 cents, and revenues ticked up fractionally year-over-year.
The company added 656,000 postpaid phone net adds, once again better than rival Verizon (VZ) but trailing subscriber-adds leader T-Mobile (TMUS). AT&T’s number beat analyst expectations, though it came down a bit from Q3’s 708,000 postpaid phone net adds.
AT&T’s guidance for 2023 brought a much-needed reset, according to analysts. The company expects wireless service revenues to grow at least 4%, and broadband revenues to grow by 5%-plus, though it expects adjusted earnings per share of $2.35-$2.45, light of analyst expectations for $2.56.
After hitting $14B in free cash flow in 2022, the company pointed toward at least $16B in 2023, largely meeting analyst consensus. And CEO John Stankey said AT&T was still on track to cut some $6B in costs this year.
That guidance was in line with the Street, and “could serve as somewhat of a clearing event,” RBC Capital Markets suggested. Uncertainty had been building about what AT&T might say about free cash flow in particular.
Such a guidance “reset” can support upside for the stock in the near-term when combined with the quarterly performance, Citi analyst Michael Rollins says. The results were “generally solid” with a “balance of strategic volume growth and financial performance.”
It reflects a “greater number of levers that AT&T can continue to pull to improve financial performance in 2023 in a range of industry growth scenarios for postpaid wireless phones and residential broadband,” Rollins said.
As for the ongoing “erosion” of business revenue, it’s “unsurprising and likely reflects secular headwinds on legacy services more so than a barometer for the macroeconomic backdrop.”
“Turning to 2023, what’s our strategy?” CEO John Stankey said on the company’s earnings call. “Well, it’s simple. Do it again. What exactly does that mean? It means we’re focused on the same three operational and business priorities we set in place 2.5 years ago.”
“As I’ve mentioned time and again, our North Star remains solely focused on becoming the best connectivity provider with 5G and fiber,” he said.
That includes selective targeting of underpenetrated areas in both consumer and business, and continuing a 5G expansion (toward reaching more than 200M people with mid-band 5G by year-end) as well as pursuing “healthy” subscriber growth in wired broadband as the fiber footprint grows.
Check out more details in Seeking Alpha’s transcript of AT&T’s earnings call.