Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE:S - News) today reported Adjusted OIBDA* of $842 million for the fourth quarter and nearly $5.1 billion for the full year 2011. Wireless service revenues for the fourth quarter increased more than 7 percent year-over-year, driven by Sprint platform postpaid ARPU growth of $3.69 – the largest year-over-year increase on record across the U.S. wireless industry. Strong revenue growth and cost management partially offset the impact of increased equipment net subsidies and sales expense associated with the successful launch of the iPhone®. Forty percent of Sprint’s 1.8 million iPhone sales in the fourth quarter were to new customers. Based on internal estimates, including incremental costs associated with iPhone sales, the combined impact of iPhone and Network Vision costs reduced fourth quarter Adjusted OIBDA* margin, which was 10.8 percent, by approximately 8.8 percentage points.
The company reported total net subscriber additions of 1.6 million during the fourth quarter of 2011 – the best quarterly result in six years – bringing total ending subscribers to the highest level in the company’s history. Total postpaid net additions of 161,000 for the fourth quarter represent the tenth consecutive quarter of year-over-year improvement and were driven by continued strength of the Sprint platform, which had net postpaid additions of 539,000. This is the seventh consecutive quarter of net postpaid subscriber growth on the Sprint platform.
“Our strong fourth quarter performance illustrates the power of matching iconic devices like the iPhone with our simple, unlimited plans and industry-leading customer experience,” said Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO. “During the past year, Sprint added more than 5 million net new customers and grew wireless service revenue by more than 5 percent, including 17 percent for the Sprint platform. This momentum gives us confidence as we execute our Network Vision upgrade and 4G LTE roll-out.”
The company continued to rapidly grow the number of prepaid and wholesale and affiliate subscribers in the fourth quarter. Prepaid net additions were 507,000 bringing total prepaid subscribers to nearly 14.8 million at the end of 2011, an increase of 20 percent since the end of 2010. Net additions of 954,000 for wholesale and affiliates in the fourth quarter were the highest in seven years.
Additionally, the company reported a net loss of $1.3 billion and a diluted loss of $.43 per share for the quarter, which includes pre-tax, non-cash charges of $241 million, or $.08 per share, consisting of asset and impairment charges of $78 million on property, plant and equipment, $135 million on Sprint’s investment in Clearwire and $28 million in severance costs.
Sprint’s Network Vision initiative remains on schedule and on budget. In the fourth quarter, the company completed field integration testing and launched the first multi-mode base station and first cluster of cell sites, validating improved 3G data performance metrics, such as voice quality, call drops and blocks and improved data speeds. The company expects to bring approximately 12,000 sites on air by the end of 2012 and to complete the majority of its Network Vision roll-out in 2013. In addition, as part of Network Vision Sprint has announced it expects to begin launching 4G LTE by mid-year 2012. In addition to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Atlanta, Sprint today announced Kansas City and Baltimore will be among the initial six major cities to launch.
The company also raised a substantial portion of the additional cash needed to fund the Network Vision deployment, debt maturities and working capital requirements over the next few years. During the fourth quarter, Sprint raised additional financing of $4 billion and repaid all 2012 maturities prior to scheduled maturity. Sprint’s next scheduled debt maturities include $300 million due in May 2013 and $1.5 billion due in October 2013.
Sprint generated $257 million of Free Cash Flow* in the quarter. As of Dec. 31, 2011, the company’s total liquidity was approximately $6.7 billion, consisting of $5.6 billion in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments and $1.1 billion of undrawn borrowing capacity available under its revolving bank credit facility.
In 2011, Sprint’s Customer Satisfaction and First Call Resolution scores improved year-over-year for the fourth consecutive year and third parties continued to affirm Sprint’s customer experience leadership. In the fourth quarter, Frost & Sullivan awarded Sprint the North American Customer Value Enhancement of the Year Award in the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communications market, and Analysys Mason gave Sprint the highest M2M scorecard ranking among North American-based communications service providers. Last month, Sprint received the ATLANTIC ACM Best-in-Class Network Award for Global Wholesale Excellence. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine’s annual 2011 Best of Everything list awarded top honors to Sprint’s unlimited data plan, no annual contract offerings from Boost Mobile and payLo by Virgin Mobile. Last week, Virgin Mobile USA received the highest ranking in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Wireless Customer Care Non-Contract Study – Volume 1, with Boost placing second. Sprint’s sustainable efforts also continued to gather accolades. Following Sprint’s third place ranking among U.S. companies on Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings in October, Sprint joined the exclusive World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers Program – one of only 27 global partners selected since 1999.
Besides adding the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s to the company’s industry-leading line-up of devices, Sprint also launched several other innovative products during the fourth quarter including HTC EVO Design 4G™, the company’s 25th 4G device. Sprint also launched the first three Sprint Direct Connect® phones, Kyocera DuraMax, Kyocera DuraCore and Motorola Admiral™, the first Sprint Direct Connect Android™ smartphone. Earlier this year, Sprint announced the initial group of devices that will operate on its 4G LTE network: Galaxy Nexus™, LG Viper™ 4G LTE with eco-friendly features and Sierra Wireless™ Tri-Network Hotspot. Also during the fourth quarter, Sprint unveiled a redesigned website for business, www.sprint.com/business, launched 4G Fixed Business Access, a business solution that turns any area into an instant office, and collaborated on M2M solutions including wireless kiosks to capture health and wellness information remotely.
The company served more than 55 million customers at the end of the fourth quarter of 2011. This includes 33 million postpaid subscribers (28.7 million on the Sprint platform and 4.3 million on the Nextel platform), 14.8 million prepaid subscribers (12.8 million on the Sprint platform and 2 million on the Nextel platform) and approximately 7.2 million wholesale and affiliate subscribers, all of whom utilize the Sprint platform.
For the quarter, the company added 1.6 million net wireless customers, including net additions of 668,000 retail subscribers and net additions of 954,000 wholesale and affiliate subscribers as a result of growth in MVNOs reselling prepaid services.
The company gained approximately 161,000 net postpaid subscribers during the quarter compared to a gain of 58,000 in the fourth quarter of 2010.
The Sprint platform added approximately 539,000 net postpaid customers during the quarter. The Nextel platform lost 378,000 net postpaid customers in the quarter.
The company added 507,000 net prepaid subscribers during the quarter, which includes net additions of 899,000 prepaid Sprint platform customers, offset by losses of 392,000 net prepaid Nextel platform customers.
The credit quality of Sprint’s end-of-period postpaid customers was approximately 82 percent prime as compared to approximately 83 percent prime at the end of the third quarter of 2011.
For the quarter, Sprint reported postpaid churn of 1.98 percent, compared to 1.86 percent for the year-ago period and 1.91 percent for the third quarter of 2011. Quarterly postpaid churn increased year-over-year and sequentially due to higher involuntary deactivations which occur when Sprint disconnects a customer due to lack of payment or violations of terms and conditions. This is a temporary increase, the majority of which was associated with pricing actions taken primarily through indirect channels. We tightened our credit standards during the third and fourth quarters to stem further impacts of these types of promotional activities.
Approximately 9 percent of postpaid customers upgraded their handsets during the fourth quarter. Upgrades as a percentage of our subscriber base increased sequentially, likely due to the iPhone launch and customers’ expectations of the launch, which depressed third quarter upgrades.
Prepaid churn for the fourth quarter was 3.68 percent, compared to 4.93 percent for the year-ago period and 4.07 percent for the third quarter of 2011. The quarterly year-over-year and sequential improvements in prepaid churn were primarily a result of improvements in the Virgin Mobile and Boost brands, and growth in the number of Assurance Wireless customers, who on average have lower churn than the remainder of our prepaid subscriber base.Wireless Service Revenues
Wireless retail service revenues of $6.9 billion for the quarter represent an increase of more than 7 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2010 and more than 1 percent compared to the third quarter of 2011. The quarterly year-over-year improvement was primarily due to higher postpaid ARPU as well as an increased number of net prepaid subscribers as a result of additional market launches of Assurance WirelessSM and growth of the Virgin Mobile brand, partially offset by lower prepaid ARPU. Sequentially, wireless retail service revenues increased, primarily as a result of higher postpaid ARPU.
Wireless postpaid ARPU increased year-over-year from $55.26 to $58.59, the largest year-over-year postpaid ARPU growth in the company’s history, while sequentially ARPU increased from $57.65 to $58.59. Quarterly year-over-year and sequential ARPU benefited from higher monthly recurring revenues primarily as a result of the premium data add-on charges for smartphones.
Prepaid ARPU of $26.62 for the quarter declined from $27.95 in the fourth quarter of 2010 and from $27.19 in the third quarter of 2011. The decline in both year-over-year and sequential periods is a result of a greater mix of Assurance WirelessSM customers who on average have lower ARPU than the remainder of our prepaid subscriber base, partially offset by improvements in Boost ARPU.
Quarterly wholesale, affiliate and other revenues increased by $12 million, compared to the year-ago period, and increased by $10 million sequentially, resulting primarily from growth in MVNOs reselling prepaid services.
Wireless Operating Expenses and Adjusted OIBDA*
Total wireless net operating expenses were $8.4 billion in the fourth quarter, compared to $7.6 billion in the year-ago period and $7.4 billion in the third quarter of 2011.
Wireless equipment net subsidy in the fourth quarter was approximately $1.7 billion (equipment revenue of $910 million, less cost of products of $2.6 billion), compared to almost $1.2 billion in the year-ago period and in the third quarter of 2011. The quarterly year-over-year and sequential increase in net subsidy is primarily due to the launch of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, which on average carry a higher subsidy rate per handset as compared to other handsets.
Wireless cost of service increased approximately 12 percent year-over-year primarily due to higher 4G data usage, Network Vision related expenses and higher service and repair costs as a growing percentage of our customer base is on smartphones. Wireless cost of service declined by nearly 2 percent sequentially, primarily due to seasonally lower data roaming expense and lower service and repair costs.
Wireless SG&A expenses increased approximately 3 percent year-over-year and 6 percent sequentially. Quarterly year-over-year SG&A expenses increased primarily due to higher selling and bad debt expenses, partially offset by lower marketing costs. Sequentially, SG&A expenses increased primarily as a result of higher sales and bad debt expenses. Sales expenses year-over-year and sequentially increased primarily due to iPhone point-of sale discounts (subsidy) for devices directly sold by the manufacturer to indirect dealers, in which Sprint does not take device title, as well as higher gross additions. Bad debt expense was $186 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, representing an increase for quarterly year-over-year and sequential periods by $75 million and $22 million, respectively, driven primarily by an increase in the agings of accounts receivable outstanding combined with a higher average write-off per account.
Wireless depreciation and amortization expense decreased $179 million year-over-year, primarily due to the absence of amortization for customer relationship intangible assets related to previous acquisitions, which have become fully amortized, as well as a decrease due to the replacement rate of fully depreciated assets, partially offset by a fourth quarter increase related to a reduction in estimated useful lives of certain assets.
Wireless Adjusted OIBDA* of $668 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 compares to $1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010 and $1.2 billion in the third quarter of 2011. The quarterly year-over-year decline in Adjusted OIBDA* was primarily due to higher equipment net subsidy and sales expense primarily associated with iPhone sales, and higher cost of service, partially offset by higher postpaid and prepaid wireless service revenues and lower marketing costs. Sequentially, quarterly Adjusted OIBDA* declined primarily as a result of higher equipment net subsidy and sales expense primarily associated with iPhone sales, partially offset by higher postpaid wireless service revenues and lower wireless cost of service.
Wireline revenues of $1.1 billion for the quarter declined 14 percent year-over-year primarily as a result of a reduction in intercompany rate, based on market prices, for voice and IP services sold to the wireless segment and the scheduled migration of wholesale cable VoIP customers off of Sprint’s IP platform. Sequentially, fourth quarter wireline revenues declined less than 1 percent.
Total wireline net operating expenses were almost $1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011. Net operating expenses declined approximately 9 percent year-over-year due to lower cost of service from continued declines in voice and cable IP volumes, improvement in SG&A expenses and lower depreciation expenses. Sequentially, fourth quarter net operating expenses increased by less than 1 percent.
Wireline Adjusted OIBDA* was $178 million for the quarter, compared to $267 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 and $184 million reported for the third quarter of 2011. Quarterly wireline Adjusted OIBDA* declined year-over-year as a result of lower revenues, partially offset by cost reductions. Sequentially, quarterly wireline Adjusted OIBDA* declined as a result of lower revenues.
The company expects 2012 Adjusted OIBDA* to be between $3.7 billion and $3.9 billion. Within that Adjusted OIBDA* expectation, we anticipate full year consolidated net service revenue growth of 4 to 6 percent. Sprint expects full year capital expenditures of approximately $6 billion in 2012, excluding capitalized interest.
OIBDA is operating income/(loss) before depreciation and amortization. Adjusted OIBDA is OIBDA excluding severance, exit costs, and other special items. Adjusted OIBDA Margin represents Adjusted OIBDA divided by non-equipment net operating revenues for Wireless and Adjusted OIBDA divided by net operating revenues for Wireline. We believe that Adjusted OIBDA and Adjusted OIBDA Margin provide useful information to investors because they are an indicator of the strength and performance of our ongoing business operations, including our ability to fund discretionary spending such as capital expenditures, spectrum acquisitions and other investments and our ability to incur and service debt. While depreciation and amortization are considered operating costs under GAAP, these expenses primarily represent non-cash current period costs associated with the use of long-lived tangible and definite-lived intangible assets. Adjusted OIBDA and Adjusted OIBDA Margin are calculations commonly used as a basis for investors, analysts and credit rating agencies to evaluate and compare the periodic and future operating performance and value of companies within the telecommunications industry.
Free Cash Flow is the cash provided by operating activities less the cash used in investing activities other than short-term investments and equity method investments during the period. We believe that Free Cash Flow provides useful information to investors, analysts and our management about the cash generated by our core operations after interest and dividends and our ability to fund scheduled debt maturities and other financing activities, including discretionary refinancing and retirement of debt and purchase or sale of investments.
Net Debt is consolidated debt, including current maturities, less cash and cash equivalents, short-term investments and if any, restricted cash. We believe that Net Debt provides useful information to investors, analysts and credit rating agencies about the capacity of the company to reduce the debt load and improve its capital structure.