AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) today reported third-quarter results highlighted by strong EPS growth, record free cash flow, $3.8 billion in share buybacks and, when you exclude the divested Advertising Solutions business, strong consolidated revenue growth led by wireless, U-verse and strategic business services.
“We had another impressive quarter with strong earnings growth, record cash flows and solid returns to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and chief executive officer. “In wireless, we had another excellent smartphone quarter, penetration of usage-based mobile data plans continues to climb, and our 4G LTE network build is ahead of schedule. And in wireline, our IP network continues to deliver strong gains in U-verse high speed Internet connections, which helped drive an almost 10 percent increase in broadband data ARPU.
“Our strong performance allows us to increase our free cash flow guidance to $18 billion or higher this year, exceeding our previous outlook by $2 billion.”
Third-Quarter Financial Results
For the quarter ended September 30, 2012, AT&T's consolidated revenues totaled $31.5 billion, flat versus the year-earlier quarter. When excluding the divested Advertising Solutions business unit, AT&T’s consolidated revenues grew 2.6 percent. Compared with results for the third quarter of 2011, operating expenses were $25.4 billion versus $25.2 billion, up 0.7 percent year over year; excluding Advertising Solutions, operating expenses were $25.4 billion versus $24.6 billion in the year-ago quarter, up 3.4 percent. Operating income was $6.0 billion, down from $6.2 billion; and AT&T’s operating income margin was 19.2 percent, compared to 19.8 percent.
Third-quarter 2012 net income attributable to AT&T totaled $3.6 billion, or $0.63 per diluted share, consistent with $3.6 billion, or $0.61 per diluted share, in the year-earlier quarter. When adjusted for Advertising Solutions, earnings per share was $0.62 compared to $0.59 in the year-ago quarter.
Third-quarter 2012 cash from operating activities totaled $11.5 billion, a record for the company, and capital expenditures totaled $4.9 billion. Free cash flow — cash from operating activities minus capital expenditures — totaled $6.5 billion, also a record for the company. The company now expects free cash flow to be $18 billion or higher this year, up from previous guidance of $15 to $16 billion. Capital expenditures for the year are now expected to come in at the low end of the $19 to $20 billion range while still meeting network build targets. In fact, the company’s LTE deployment is ahead of schedule, already covering more than 135 million POPs. During the third quarter, AT&T continued buying back shares under its initial 300 million shares repurchase authorization. A second 300 million share buyback authorization also was approved by the AT&T board during the third quarter. The company repurchased 101.1 million of its shares for $3.8 billion in the quarter. Through October 19, the company has repurchased 271 million shares for $9.4 billion. The company expects to continue to buy back shares consistent with its repurchase authorizations.
WIRELESS OPERATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
AT&T delivered strong revenue growth, including robust wireless data revenue growth and solid postpaid ARPU gains in the third quarter. Highlights included:
Wireless Data Revenues Continue Strong Growth. Total wireless revenues, which include equipment sales, were up 6.6 percent year over year to $16.6 billion. Wireless service revenues increased 4.5 percent, to $14.9 billion, in the third quarter. Wireless data revenues — driven by mobile Internet access, access to applications, messaging and related services — increased by more than $1 billion, or 18.3 percent, from the year-earlier quarter to $6.6 billion. Third-quarter wireless operating expenses totaled $12.3 billion, up 11.7 percent versus the year-earlier quarter, driven by increased smartphone volumes, and wireless operating income was $4.4 billion, down 5.6 percent year over year.
Best Postpaid ARPU Growth in Six Quarters. Postpaid subscriber ARPU increased 2.4 percent versus the year-earlier quarter to $65.20, the strongest growth in six quarters. This also marked the 15th consecutive quarter AT&T has posted a year-over-year increase in postpaid ARPU. Phone-only postpaid ARPU was up almost 3 percent. Postpaid data ARPU reached $28.81, up 14.6 percent versus the year-earlier quarter.
Smartphone Base Grows to Almost 64 Percent of Postpaid Subscribers. AT&T sold 6.1 million smartphones in the third quarter, 1.3 million more than in the third quarter a year ago. Smartphones represented 81 percent of postpaid device sales. At the end of the quarter, 63.8 percent, or 44.5 million, of AT&T's postpaid subscribers had smartphones, up from 52.6 percent, or 36.1 million, a year earlier and up 1.4 million from the second quarter. AT&T’s ARPU for smartphones is twice that of non-smartphone subscribers, and about 89 percent of smartphone subscribers are on FamilyTalk®, Mobile Share or business plans. Churn levels for these subscribers are significantly lower than for other postpaid subscribers. More than 40 percent of AT&T’s postpaid smartphone customers use a 4G-capable device.
In the quarter, the company activated 4.7 million iPhones, with 18 percent new to AT&T. The company also had its best-ever sales quarter for Android and Windows smartphones.
Subscribers Move to Usage-Based Data Plans. The number of subscribers on usage-based data plans continues to increase. Usage-based plans include tiered data plans and the recently introduced Mobile Share plans. About 64 percent, or 28.5 million of all smartphone subscribers are on usage-based data plans. This compares to 50 percent, or 18.0 million a year ago. About three-quarters of customers on tiered data plans have chosen the higher-priced plans. Early results from sales of Mobile Share plans have been positive. Nearly 2 million subscribers signed up for Mobile Share plans in the first five weeks they were available, with take rates on the higher-data plans stronger than expected. More than a third of Mobile Share subscribers are taking plans of 10 gigabits or higher. Overall, AT&T’s postpaid wireless subscribers on data plans increased by 11 percent over the past year.
Best-Ever Third-Quarter Postpaid Churn. For the third quarter, postpaid churn was 1.08 percent, compared to 1.15 percent in the year-ago third quarter and 0.97 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Total churn was 1.34 percent versus 1.28 percent in the third quarter of 2011 and 1.18 percent in the second quarter of 2012.
Subscriber Gains in Every Category. AT&T posted a net increase in total wireless subscribers of 678,000 in the third quarter to reach 105.9 million in service. This included gains in every customer category. Subscriber additions for the quarter included postpaid net adds of 151,000. Postpaid results were impacted by iPhone 5 inventory constraints which resulted in the vast majority of third-quarter iPhone sales going to existing customers, where there was considerable pent-up demand. Prepaid net adds were 77,000, connected device net adds were 313,000 and reseller net adds were 137,000.
Branded computing subscribers, which are included in the previous categories, reached a total of 6.4 million, up more than 40 percent from a year ago. Branded computing devices includes tablets, tethering plans and other data-only devices. AT&T added 139,000 branded computing subscribers in the quarter, including 114,000 tablets.
Solid Wireless Margins with Strong Smartphone Sales. In the third quarter, wireless margins included strong smartphone sales and further revenue gains from the company’s high-value smartphone subscribers. AT&T’s third-quarter wireless operating income margin was 26.2 percent versus 29.5 percent in the year-earlier quarter, and AT&T’s wireless EBITDA service margin was 40.8 percent, compared with 43.7 percent in the third quarter of 2011. (EBITDA service margin is operating income before depreciation and amortization, divided by total service revenues.)