AT&T's Stephens optimistic about Trump even as doubts arise on Time Warner tie-up


AT&T CFO John Stephens said all the right things about the incoming Donald Trump administration this morning. But the prospects of the carrier’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner have never been murkier.

The nation’s second-largest wireless network operator announced last month that it planned to buy Time Warner for a whopping $85.4 billion in a deal that includes content behemoths such as HBO, Turner Networks and Warner Bros. Pictures. The move comes as AT&T prepares to launch the OTT service DirecTV Now as it looks to expand aggressively into digital media and advertising.

“From a company perspective, we really look forward to working with President-elect Trump and his transition team,” Stephens said at an investors conference this morning. “Policies and discussions about infrastructure investment, economic development and American innovation all fit right in with AT&T’s goals…. We’ve been the leading investor in this country for more than five years running. We look forward with optimism to working with the leadership and providing benefits to our customers and shareholders.”

As Reuters noted, though, shares of both AT&T and Time Warner slid in premarket trading this morning amid fears the deal wouldn’t clear regulatory hurdles under a Trump White House. Trump said on the campaign trail last month that the acquisition was evidence of a “power structure” that stacked the cards against the American people and in favor of the media establishment.

“It’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he said of the deal during a campaign event last month. Trump has also said he would try to block Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal.

Shares of AT&T were down 1.2 percent to $36.55 early today, Reuters reported, while Time Warner’s stock slid 3.1 percent to $85.11 per share.

Stephens’ remarks notwithstanding, Trump appears to be on shaky ground with the U.S. wireless industry even before he steps into office. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure held a fundraising dinner for Hillary Clinton at his Miami Beach home several weeks ago, saying the New York real estate developer was “just too risky.”

Late last year Trump got into a heated Twitter exchange with John Legere after the T-Mobile CEO responded to remarks Trump made toward UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. “John, focus on running your company, I think the service is terrible! Try hiring some good managers,” Trump tweeted.