Sprint Q4: Loss widens, 1 million subscribers jump ship

Summary:UPDATED. The cellular giant saw its quarterly loss widen as more than 1 million subscribers left the company, thanks to the Nextel side of the business.

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Continuing its running streak of weak performance quarter on quarter, Sprint reported a wider loss for its latest round of earnings. 

The cellular giant reported a fourth quarter net loss of $1.32 billion, or 44 cents a share, a flat result on the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $9 billion for the quarter. 

Wall Street was expecting a loss of 46 cents per share on revenue of $8.92 billion. 

Sprint noted that it suffered a $45 million loss, or 1 cent per share, related to impacts from Hurricane Sandy. But, it's worth noting—at least on this impromptu nautical theme—that Sprint's rocky boat wasn't hit half as badly as rival services, notably AT&T and Verizon. 

For the full year, consolidated net revenue stands at $35.3 billion, an increase of 5 percent on the year-ago quarter. 

Sprint saw a massive increase in sales since the company started selling the iPhone. The ray of sunshine is that Sprint's postpaid subscriber base grew for the eleventh consecutive quarter.

Breaking this figure down, the third largest U.S. cell network added 401,000 postpaid subscribers, as well as 525,000 new subscribers on pre-paid. Sprint said its postpaid net additions are up 18 percent year-over-year. 

During the quarter, however, 1.02 million customers abandoned the Nextel ship, offsetting the not-so-bad result on the Sprint side of the business.

By comparison, AT&T sold 8.6 million iPhones  while  Verizon sold 6.2 million . For the third-place cellular company in the U.S., it shows that while the AT&T—Verizon duopoly is stronger than ever, the distance between first and second, and third place is even wider.

Sprint also noted it had sold 2.2 million iPhones during the fourth quarter, out of a total of 4 million 4G LTE smartphones, or 6.6 million iPhones throughout the year. 38 percent of these were new customers.

The company also noted that it ended its 2012 fiscal year with $8.2 billion in cash and equivalents.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 07.05.11

In prepared remarks, Sprint chief executive Dan Hesse noted that Sprint's strong performance was "fueled by record wireless service revenue" on the Sprint side, and helped gain strong net additions. 

As a result, quarterly Adjusted OIBDA performance improved year-over-year in spite of significant cost increases related to Network Vision and the iPhone, both of which are key investments for our business that we expect will improve the customer experience and lead to growth in the years ahead.

It comes during a precarious patch in which  Japanese cellular giant Softbank is seeking to acquire a 70 percent stake  in Sprint for $20.1 billion, so Sprint can ultimately invest a further 50 percent stake in Clearwire.

Sprint already  owns half of the mobile broadband company , but as it seeks to expand its 4G LTE offering, Sprint needs more in terms of ownership and spectrum. 

On the earning conference call, Hesse remarked regarding the Sprint—Softbank deal, but didn't give away anything we didn't already know, let alone corporate or state secrets:

The investment by Softbank combined with the operational improvements over the last five years creates a pathway for growth. As mentioned, we announced transactions with Softbank, U.S. Cellular and Clearwire in the fourth quarter but we didn't let these initiatives take our eye off of operations. We look forward to closing these transactions, and we believe that Sprint will emerge as a more competitive company. 

He also remarked:

We're in the process of continuing to work with [Softbank]. Once we close the transaction will come back and give you an update. We've been trying to be as wholesome as we can but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. 

Sprint's fourth quarter by the numbers:

  • 6.1 million smartphones sold during the quarter;
  • 2.2 million of those overall smartphone sales were iPhone;
  • 38 percent of iPhone activations are new customers;
  • 4 million 4G LTE capable phones sold (although, not necessarily connected to the LTE network);
  • 4G LTE available in 58 cities around the U.S., with an eye on 170 cities in the "coming months".

Sprint ($S) was down slightly in pre-market trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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$S trading down in the pre-markets by 8:20 a.m. ET. (Credit: Google Finance)

Updated at 9:00 a.m. ET: with details from the Sprint Q4 conference call.

Topics: Networking

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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