Pedestrians walk past an AT&T Inc. store in the Times Square area of New York, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. According to a statement Saturday, AT&T agreed to buy Time Warner for $107.50 a share. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
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US telecoms group AT&T reported quarterly sales below analysts’ estimates as wireless bill pay customer gains fell short of expectations.

The company reported revenue of $48bn for the three months ending December, just short of the $48.5bn consensus compiled by Bloomberg. This was up from $41.7bn in the same quarter one year previously, a 15 per cent rise driven mainly by its acquisition of media group Time Warner.

But AT&T failed to add as many new bill paying phone customers as had been hoped. Analysts at Citi had predicted postpaid phone subscriptions would increase by as much as 300,000 during the quarter, but the actual rise was about 134,000.

The group posted adjusted earnings per share of 86c, in line with analysts’ predictions.

Fourth-quarter net income was $4.9bn compared with $19bn a year previously when the company was given a one-off boost by an overhaul of the US tax system.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and chief executive, said: “In 2018, we generated record free cash flow while investing at near-record levels. Our dividend payout as a percentage of free cash flow was 46 per cent for the quarter and 60 per cent for the year, allowing us to increase the dividend for the 35th consecutive year.”

“This momentum will carry us into 2019 allowing us to continue reducing our debt while investing in the business and continuing our strong record for paying dividends,” he added.

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