Tower investors cheer collapse of Sprint/T-Mobile talks

For an industry traditionally scrutinized for low executive pay, one has to wonder what our executives are actually making.
Shares of American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA all jumped Monday.

Analysts generally agree that the inability of Sprint and T-Mobile to forge a merger agreement was bad news for both carriers—particularly for Sprint—but investors in tower companies were thrilled.

Shares of the three largest publicly traded tower companies in the United States jumped Monday on news of the failed deal, with each reaching 52-week highs, Seeking Alpha noted. American Tower’s stock climbed 5.6%, SBA Communications jumped 6.4%, and Crown Castle shares rose 5.4%.

Investors had feared that a tie-up between the nation’s two smaller nationwide carriers would enable the operators to integrate their networks, lessening demand for towers in many key markets across the country. The failed deal not only eliminated those fears, it also likely signals the U.S. wireless market won’t consolidate significantly any time soon, Jennifer Fritzsche of Wells Fargo Securities wrote.

“With this formal break-up announced, it seems very unlikely that the tower cos’ customers will ever go from 4 to 3,” she wrote in a note to investors. “Additionally, we would not be surprised if recent press reports around Sprint being more aggressive in a network spend could be true.”

Indeed, while Sprint has been criticized in recent quarters for trimming its network capex, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said Monday the Japanese conglomerate will up its stake in Sprint from 83% to 85%, and will roughly triple Sprint’s capex to a range of $5 billion to $6 billion. Sprint’s own CFO acknowledged those comments, but he noted that the capex increase will happen in the “medium term.”

“Towers win in two ways,” Johnathan Chaplin of New Street Research said of the merger’s collapse. “First, the overhang of tower decommissioning is gone (we thought this could be at least 29K to 46K towers); second, Sprint will now need to invest in earnest. If Sprint deployed an incremental 15K macro sites and deployed 2.5 GHz across their entire portfolio, it could boost AFFO (adjusted funds from operations) growth by close to 100 basis points, adding close to a turn to tower multiples, or another 5% over and above our current price targets.”