AT&T stock dipped around two percent Friday, reflecting the market’s uncertainty about the carrier’s fate following reports President-elect Donald Trump remains opposed to its proposed deal to acquire Time Warner.
While Trump came out against the AT&T-Time Warner hookup during his campaign, optimism that a Republican administration would be more disposed to wave the merger on created a bubble that buoyed both AT&T and Time Warner share prices in recent weeks. That bubble burst on Friday when Bloomberg sources said both Trump and chief strategist Steve Bannon are against the deal.
Though he may not be directly part of the deal review process – which falls instead under the purview of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, with input from the Federal Communications Commission – MoffettNathanson Analyst Craig Moffett told Bloomberg Trump could “turn up the heat” in an attempt to force the latter commission’s hand.
It seems, however, AT&T may be trying to head off Trump’s potential influence there – or at least avoid one more step in the review process.
In a Thursday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T indicated it believes the FCC won’t need to analyze the deal because no licenses under the commission’s jurisdiction will be transferred from Time Warner to the carrier.
“Time Warner has conducted a review of all licenses that it holds that are granted by the FCC,” AT&T wrote. “While subject to change, it is currently anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction.”
The deal in question was announced back in October, when AT&T said it intended to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion. At the time, analysts said the move was a strategic play to build up the carrier’s content holdings and help diversify its portfolio to face an uncertain future.
Putting Trump and the FCC aside (as hard as that is to do), analysts including Wells Fargo’s Jennifer Fritzsche said there would be a “tough fight” ahead for approval, but noted the DOJ has “never stopped a vertical merger in the telecom/media space.”
And that trend could bear out given the thoughtful tone of a Senate panel that grilled AT&T and Time Warner in a hearing last month.
As noted by Georgetown professor Larry Downes in a the New York Times article, while senators in the hearing were asking tough questions, they also appeared to be “open-minded about the changing nature of competition in the information sector.” Given that such hearings provide guidance for DOJ and FCC regulators, that could be a good sign.
Filed Under: Industry regulations