Is Sprint (NYSE: S) the kind of company and stock that could make you rich beyond your wildest dreams? In a word, no. For a more detailed discussion of why it isn’t, please read on.
The times, they are a-changin’
Sprint might have looked like a fairly plausible wealth-builder just a few weeks ago — for investors with an appetite for big risks and dreams of big rewards. The eternal underdog in the North American wireless communications market saw its share prices plunging 44% lower between April 1, 2017 and the same date in 2018. At that point, Sprint bulls and other optimists could have argued that the company was primed for a huge turnaround that would unlock an equally massive bounce in Sprint’s share prices. It would only require a great 5G upgrade cycle, one awesome ad campaign, some kind of huge mistake driving subscribers away from larger rivals AT&T and Verizon, or some combination of these trigger events.
Stranger things have happened, right?
But that turnaround idea is off the table now. Near the end of April, fellow mini-major telecom T-Mobile US (NASDAQ: TMUS) finally got around to filing a proper takeover bid for Sprint. After several years of merger rumors and failed negotiations, T-Mobile put together a $26 billion stock-swap bid. When you account for T-Mobile shouldering Sprint’s $33 billion of net debt, the enterprise value of the deal comes out to nearly $60 billion.
What’s in it for Sprint investors?
That’s the endgame for Sprint investors. No matter what happens next, buying Sprint shares today isn’t likely to make you any significant amount of money — and certainly not the manifold multiples it would take to create a million-dollar nest egg out of a few thousand dollars.
Let’s say that T-Mobile and Sprint dance through all the regulatory challenges and shareholder votes, closing their merger exactly as planned. In that case, each 9.75 Sprint shares you own turn into a single T-Mobile stub instead. The final deal value depends on T-Mobile’s performance rather than Sprint’s. Since Sprint trades roughly 10% below T-Mobile’s target price, you could unlock a small arbitrage premium by picking up Sprint shares instead of T-Mobile. But a 10% one-time premium is hardly a massive wealth-building tool.
On the other hand, you’d also have to accept the risk of T-Mobile failing to close the merger as planned. Regulatory reviews could weigh the deal with burdensome requirements or even halt the whole idea. Japanese telecom SoftBank, which owns 80% of Sprint, could get cold feet and cancel the agreement. And that’s just a couple of the roadblocks the two telecoms must overcome — many things could go wrong along the way.
And if the merger falls apart for any reason, both T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s shares are sure to plunge on the news. Given the sad state of Sprint’s business trends, I’m not sure that its shareholders would ever recover. So you have to weight this potential disaster against the 10% premium we looked at a minute ago.
Hold your horses with tight reins
Buying Sprint shares today is more of a gamble than an investment. The potential payoff is small, but the risks are huge. This is no millionaire-maker stock today, but perhaps a millionaire-breaker.
I’m staying far away from Sprint’s stock until further notice. Feel free to follow my lead.
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