Assuming such a deal could overcome inevitable financing and regulatory hurdles, it would effectively combine the country's third- and fourth-largest mobile carriers, putting untold new pressure on both AT&T and Verizon.
Time to panic?
But American Tower Corp. (NYSE: AMT ) shareholders know the ripple effects don't end there. Remember, the wireless communications real estate specialist currently holds leases at thousands of communications sites with both Sprint and T-Mobile. What, then, would come of any redundant agreements?
Thankfully, American Tower was all too aware of investors' concerns following the news, so kindly issued a pre-emptive press release yesterday to shed light on the situation.
Specifically, American Tower says, Sprint and T-Mobile accounted for approximately 16% and 10%, respectively, of its consolidated operating revenues at the end of the most recent quarter -- not an overwhelmingly large amount, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.
What's more, American Tower currently holds roughly 5,500 separate leases for antenna space on the same sites with both Sprint and T-Mobile.
But if you're wondering if American Tower stands to lose at least some of the leases, you can breathe easy for now. Apparently, the average remaining non-cancellable current lease term on those sites is roughly seven years.
On one hand, that's great news for American Tower investors, who don't need to worry about any sudden near-term losses of operating revenue from a sizable chunk of its 66,000 total towers. What's more, this is certainly something both Sprint and T-Mobile will need to take into account as they weigh the merits of joining forces.
On the other hand, if Sprint and T-Mobile do ultimately deem the synergies worthwhile and can push the deal through, American Tower will stand to lose some of those redundant leases -- even if it won't happen for another seven years.
Keep it in perspective
In the meantime, American Tower's own recent buying spree stands as evidence the company has no intention of resting on its laurels.
Remember, back in August it announced an agreement to acquire up to 4,456 towers in Brazil and Mexico from Virginia-based NII Holdings. NII Holdings, for its part, is leasing back those sites for a minimum of 12 years -- which will generate around $149 million in annual run rate revenue and $55 million in gross margin for American Tower, mind you -- and is using the proceeds of the sale to invest in next-gen network deployments for its Nextel Brazil and Nextel Mexico subsidiaries.
Meanwhile, American Tower went even bigger in September, announcing a massive $4.8 billion acquisition to buy all of MIP Tower Holdings, a private real estate investment trust and the parent company of Global Tower Holdings.
Once the GTP purchase closes, it'll increase American Tower's U.S.-owned tower count by nearly 25% -- 63% of the revenue originates at sites on land either owned or on long-term leases with more than 20 years remaining. All in all, American Tower has said these new assets should generate around $345 million in revenue and $270 million in gross margin in 2014 alone.
Foolish final thoughts
All things considered, even if -- and that's a very big "if" -- Sprint does go through with acquiring T-Mobile, I'm not convinced American Tower investors should be losing any sleep. To the contrary, and given its aggressive efforts to bolster its industry position, I think American Tower stock should be able to continue handsomely rewarding shareholders over the long term.
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