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AT&T CFO Updates Shareholders

Pascal Desroches, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of AT&T Inc.* (NYSE:T) spoke today at the Morgan Stanley European Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, where he provided an update to shareholders.

Desroches addressed the company’s renewed momentum in its wireless business. He said that AT&T’s go-to-market strategy, which has led to wireless service revenue and EBITDA1 growth, is sustainable and that the company continues to expect fourth-quarter EBITDA growth to exceed third-quarter levels. Further, the company’s simplified plans, improved customer experience and network performance have driven its ability to retain subscribers, which has reduced churn and increased customer lifetime value. 

Desroches said that while amortization accounting for promotions has modestly impacted postpaid phone ARPU levels in 2021, the company expects these to stabilize in 2022, driven by an anticipated recovery in international roaming revenues and continued subscriber adoption of higher-ARPU plans. He noted that only about 20% of the company’s postpaid smartphones are on the company’s highest rate plan – Unlimited Elite – which is the company’s fastest growing plan. Desroches also indicated that he expects the accounting impact from amortization of promotions to remain manageable given current uptake levels, with fewer than a quarter of gross adds and upgrades in the most recent quarter trading in newer devices for premium promotional offers.

With postpaid phone ARPU stabilizing in 2022, Desroches said that AT&T expects higher wireless service revenues from a growing postpaid subscriber base. He also indicated that AT&T’s outlook for 2022 and beyond does not assume a continuation of outsized industry net adds.  Should recent trends continue, Desroches believes the company is on solid footing to capitalize on better demand.  However, AT&T’s focus is on improving its share position profitably with continued market momentum regardless of industry demand levels.

Desroches also addressed HBO Max and HBO net adds. He said that trends are in line with AT&T’s expectations driven by strong additions in international markets. In fact, while it is still early, initial data suggest that in most international markets HBO Max is quickly rising to become a top two direct-to-consumer provider in terms of subscribers and revenues. Given this, Desroches said he feels good about HBO Max’s global positioning and remains confident in its longer-term global expansion.

With regard to its pending WarnerMedia transaction with Discovery, the company continues to expect the transaction to close by mid-2022. While dividend decisions are made at the discretion of the AT&T board of directors, Desroches said that after the transaction closes, AT&T expects an annual dividend payout ratio of 40% to 43% on anticipated free cash flows of $20 billion plus, equating to $8 billion to $9 billion in dividends annually.2

1 EBITDA is operating income before depreciation and amortization.

2 Free cash flow is a non-GAAP financial measure that is frequently used by investors and credit rating agencies to provide relevant and useful information. Free cash flow is cash from operating activities minus capital expenditures, and AT&T will include cash distributions received from DIRECTV, including those reported as investing activities, as part of Free Cash Flow.  Due to high variability and difficulty in predicting items that impact cash from operating activities and capital expenditures, the company is not able to provide a reconciliation between projected free cash flow and the most comparable GAAP metric without unreasonable effort.