In this segment from the MarketFoolery podcast, host Chris Hill and Motley Fool Asset Management's Bill Barker were pleased to see that Wall Street's M&A cohort had a busy weekend, with a pair of heavyweight telecoms preparing to join forces -- assuming regulatory issues and shareholder concerns can be overcome.
The long-discussed, previously attempted merger of Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) is now apparently imminent, which would create a No. 3 in the mobile telecom space that's a real contender, size-wise, with the top two. (It's a particularly interesting betrothal, given how intensely the two CEOs have sniped at each other in the past.) The market appears skeptical, and the Fools are taking the news with a grain or two of salt as well -- especially one portion of the announcement designed to woo regulators and please President Trump.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on April 30, 2018.
Chris Hill: We have to start with T-Mobile and Sprint. T-Mobile buying Sprint for $26 billion in stock. It's an all-stock deal. The combined company is going to stick with the T-Mobile name, and more importantly for entertainment purposes, John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, will remain as CEO of this new entity.
"This new entity," I say that as though it's a done deal. Yet, when you look at what's happening to shares of both T-Mobile and Sprint, both of which are down right now, for all the temptation to say, "The third time's a charm, they're actually going to make this work," right now, Wall Street is acting as though this deal is not going to happen.
Bill Barker: Yeah. This has been a long time coming. There have been a lot of variations over the years on it, going back to 2014 when they first discussed it and proposed it, and ultimately dropped it because they were given the indications that it would not be approved. That was a different administration, 2014. They got back to talking about it last year, 2017. That hit some bumps. But today, in their minds, according to them, it's on. And according to Wall Street, there's nothing that's really changed here.
Hill: I thought that, from a messaging standpoint, the folks at T-Mobile and Sprint did a great job of, in their announcement of this deal, laying the groundwork for as smooth as possible an approval from the U.S. Justice Department as they possibly could, in terms of talking about competition, what it's going to be not just in terms of competition with the leaders in this industry, AT&T and Verizon, but also the wins for consumers.
I thought everything was spot on with one exception, and that was talking about how this was going to create a lot of jobs. And I just thought, come on. Come on, guys! Please don't act like there aren't going to be layoffs involved in a merger of this size. Please don't act as though there are zero redundancies between the third and fourth largest telecoms in America.
Barker: Well, the announcement sort of read like a checklist of what you're trying to get in front of this Administration to get their approval, citing the tax cuts being helpful to this deal, and as you mentioned, jobs, we'll come back to that in a second, competition with China. There seems to be a very specific audience that you're working toward. Now, whether that audience, that being the top of the administration, really is the deciding vote here, I wouldn't speculate on. But, the positive spin for the jobs is that they're going to get together and throw a lot of money at the 5G network, and that's where the jobs are. So, your points, that this would obviously involve some redundancies, is accurate. They're seeing that and raising the, "Oh, but look at the 5G and how much we're going to devote to that."
Hill: And I'm not a tech person, but as I understand it, 5G, that's one better than 4G, right?
Barker: It's 25% better than 4G.
Hill: Now I'm interested. I wasn't before, but now I am. Can we talk about these two CEOs for a second, Marcelo Claure, who's the CEO of Sprint, and John Legere from T-Mobile? I'll give you a minute to think about this, in terms of animosity between CEOs. Because, if you didn't know anything about these two and their history going at one another, and you just watched them on the set of CNBC's Squawk on the Street, if you just saw them sitting on the set with Jim Cramer and Carl Quintanilla, you'd think, "Oh, my goodness, these old pals have gotten their businesses together. Isn't this great?" And you would have no idea the names they have called each other in the past, Claure calling John Legere a con artist, Legere dismissing Claure and saying, and I'm quoting here, "Stay in the shallow end of the pool, you don't want to come in the deep end where the big boys are," I mean, just, really getting personal with one another. But, I suppose, in the hopes that this deal gets approved, money solves everything. There's a price at which Claure says, "Alright, sure, we'll sell this company and you can be the CEO."
Barker: Yeah, everybody has their price, and the price today seems to be $146 billion, the combined company would have, when you include all the debt, depending on where the stock price is at any particular moment. Right, they've called each other names, but for the right amount of money, they'll stop calling each other names and be friends. And that's not too dissimilar from plenty of things that we've seen in the political world lately.
Hill: It's true, although I was spending a little bit of time trying to think of the last time, in the business world, we saw CEOs who just flat-out didn't like each other, or at least, the public-facing versions of them didn't like one another. Maybe behind closed doors, there's a little bit more friendliness toward one another. But we're talking about years of history of these two just openly mocking one another and their overall businesses.
Barker: Yeah. CNBC has a page on its site right now that goes through a number of the Twitter insults over the years, so if you want to be entertained, you can look that up. Some of which are not ... you run a tighter ship here, there are some words in here you're not allowed to say on your network here, in their tweets.
Hill: Oh, really?
Barker: Their tweets that CNBC is publishing.
Hill: We try and run a tight ship around here, in terms of our language.
Barker: Unlike some establishments that I can think of, including CNBC and other things that made the news over the weekend.
Hill: [laughs] Although we did have a recent snafu here --
Barker: Oh, right!
Hill: Yeah. But, let's move on from there. So, at the end of the day, when you look at these stocks, do you look at this and think, "Do you know what? The market is speaking," granted it's the short-term, "loudly and clearly, this deal is not going through." Would you be at all tempted to throw down a couple of bucks on shares of Sprint, just thinking, maybe this doesn't go through, but at some point, someone is going to buy them, because the stock's on sale today? Or would you just stay away altogether?
Barker: I would stay away. In terms of investing for the discounted cash flow of the company over the long term, it's being controlled by ... not rumors, there are legitimate concerns about whether this can go through. If you think you have insight that goes deeper than the markets on the percentage chance that this goes through, that being the market's discounting -- there's some percent chance that it goes through, but it's less than 50-50, is the way the betting looks right now. Why I would have a better read on that than the market after looking at this for a few minutes today, I don't know. Plenty of people will, though. They'll decide that they think they know what the outcome is going to be and bet accordingly. But that's what it is, it's a bet.
Bill Barker has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Chris Hill has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Twitter and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool recommends T-Mobile US. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.