T-Mobile maintained momentum during 'uneventful' Q2: Wells Fargo

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The wireless market was relatively uneventful during the second quarter, but potential M&A activity looms.

The second quarter of 2017 may have been relatively good for tower companies, but Wells Fargo Securities expects it was “uneventful” for carriers.

However, investors are looking for things to liven up in the coming quarters as talk of all kinds of potential M&A deals begins to transform into some real tie-ups involving one or more wireless carriers.

Jennifer Fritszche of Wells Fargo indicated the second quarter almost surely saw the continuation of some common current themes among U.S. wireless carriers. Wells Fargo recently lowered its estimates for AT&T, saying that elevated competition would result in a 2.1% year-over-year dip in wireless standalone revenue during the quarter, and it predicted AT&T will face another 275,000 postpaid phone losses.

And although Sprint’s recent offer of a free year of unlimited service to users who switch may lure some new customers, the deal—which wasn’t heavily marketed and was available only online—likely had limited impact.

“Thus, we do not expect this offer to meaningfully impact print’s share of FQ1 gross adds in a material way,” Fritzsche wrote in a note to subscribers this morning, adding that Sprint is likely to post roughly 60,000 postpaid net phone users in its upcoming earnings report. “Due to elevated competition, we estimate postpaid phone churn will be 1.58%, in line with FQ4 ’16 but up from 1.39% in the year-ago quarter. On the prepaid side, we predict net adds of +35,000 vs. the Street at +41,000."

Verizon was late to the unlimited party, of course, adding an all-you-can-eat plan earlier in the year in a move that helped slow significant customer losses in the first quarter. The unlimited model “has been more of a retention tool than a driver of new gross adds,” Fritszche wrote, and she predicted a significant 7% year-over-year drop in service revenues for the nation’s largest wireless carrier.

Finally, Fritzsche predicted another big quarter for T-Mobile as its “uncarrier” strategy continues to pay off. T-Mobile has said it expects “a fairly significant decline” in its prepaid base due to its lack of willingness to counter rivals with a bargain-basement offering, but Fritzsche said T-Mobile’s unlimited plan is seeing strong adoption.

“We believe T-Mobile will again lead the industry in postpaid phone and total net add growth despite a competitive quarter,” she wrote. “We are estimating total Q2 postpaid net adds of 726,000 (vs. Street of +755,000) and net postpaid phone adds of +602,000 (vs. Street at 596,000).”