Tech

Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering deals. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.

Sprint Corp. is back to losing money, the deal with T-Mobile US Inc. is back on, and all is normal in the wireless world again. 

You may recall Sprint's press release from last quarter proudly proclaiming it had actually turned a profit for the first time in three years, as Chairman Masayoshi Son put talks with T-Mobile on the back burner and instead attempted to drum up deal interest from any other billionaire within arm's length of the wireless industry that would hear him out. Didn't work.

Fast forward to Wednesday and Sprint is in the red again (a loss of one cent a share) after a desperate summer promotion, which to be fair, did help it add a nice chunk of subscribers -- 168,000 to be exact, more than AT&T Inc.

Any net loss for Sprint doesn't bode well for those thinking last quarter was a turning point. And after being shooed away by the other parties, Sprint is now said to be just weeks away from announcing a merger with T-Mobile, a transaction years in the making and more imperative now than ever before:

What Now?
It's getting tougher for the big U.S. wireless carriers to add customers, so AT&T and Verizon have looked outward to the entertainment space as T-Mobile and Sprint eye one another
Source: Bloomberg

While every little bit in the way of subscriber gains gives it more leverage in negotiating with industry favorite T-Mobile, it should be clear by now that a stand-alone Sprint will only continue to seesaw between unprofitably adding customers and profitably losing them until the seesaw breaks. 

Sprint shares rose in early trading, though they don't have much runway from here. As I wrote last week, the stock has a lid on it because investors aren't convinced the T-Mobile merger can win regulatory approval and without the deal the outlook isn't good.

Nothing to See Here
A rising number of analysts recommend that investors dump Sprint, even though it's weeks away from a merger with T-Mobile. The all-stock deal faces an uphill battle with regulators.
Source: Bloomberg

Even for T-Mobile, which added another 817,000 regular monthly subscribers last quarter, it's a lot easier to fall from here than to keep up its momentum. Neither company hosted their usual conference calls following this week's results, and no wonder because if they did, they'd mostly be facing questions about a topic they can't yet discuss publicly. But I'd like to hear more from them about what the plan is if a deal is blocked. 

In the meantime, it's a waiting game for AT&T closing its Time Warner Inc. acquisition (Sunday marked one year since it was announced). AT&T added the least amount of customers last quarter, effectively losing in the price wars to its larger and smaller rivals. That makes its Time Warner deal that much more important but also potentially financially more burdensome.

Verizon Communications Inc., the industry No. 1, still looks most interesting. It added 603,000 customers, and with its competitors all distracted by mega-deals, Verizon could finally be set to break out of its doldrums. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tara Lachapelle in New York at tlachapelle@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at bewilliams@bloomberg.net