Tuesday, May 14, 2019

CY 1Q19 Sprint Prepaid: Another Down Quarter & Stealing for Postpaid

Sprint prepaid has recovered from the previous quarter's 173,000 net losses with only 14,000 losses in CY1Q19. Statistically, they seem to be on the mend.  Sprint management has continually citing Boost Mobile's performance and doing heavy competitive lifting against stronger competitors Metro by T-Mobile and AT&T's Cricket.  It's no surprise that some T-Mobile and AT&T's net gains came from Sprint prepaid losses.  

However, this is disingenuous as Sprint's prepaid numbers should have formally shown better results.  There has been an on-going assignment of better performing (stable paying) subs to Sprint's non-branded postpaid category, thereby enhancing the postpaid number count. For CY1Q19, prepaid to postpaid migrations totaled 129,000.  On the postpaid side,  the company lost 189,000 phone subs. Without that 'help' from prepaid, the postpaid optics would have worse. Back in CY4Q18, with 173,000 prepaid losses, 107,000 migrated to the postpaid bucket. Then, Sprint posted 26,000 postpaid phone net losses. So the take away is that while prepaid performance is bad, postpaid is in rougher shape without its prepaid unit. 

By no means is Sprint the only carrier using prepaid to postpaid migration accounting to help its postpaid optics. T-Mobile is also expanding its postpaid numbers with this approach, piling onto the string of phenomenal postpaid growth quarters.  For 1Q19, 120,000 prepaid migrated to postpaid. What's important here is that they would have beaten AT&T for the 1Q19 prepaid title if they didn't do the migration. These migrations allowed T-Mobile to report 656,000 net phone adds. In 4Q18, there were 160,000 prepaid to postpaid which allowed T-Mobile to break one million phone net add mark.  Optics is everything in pushing your message.

Looking at churn, Sprints low 4% churn is highest of the big four prepaid competitors. T-Mobile is at 3.85% and America Movil is at 3.7% in the quarter and AT&T's Cricket reported to be sub 3%. On the other end of the spectrum, the non-competitive Verizon prepaid unit has continually lost prepaid subs and doesn't report its churn.  Churn has a lot to do with volatility or stability of the operating unit.   

Why it matters:  Without prepaid to postpaid migration accounting, Sprint prepaid appears to be staying somewhat lockstep against competitors in acquiring customers.  Since this accounting practice has been in place for many quarters, it's likely that prepaid numbers will continue to assist any Sprint postpaid 'recovery.'

There has been continuous talk about T-Mobile and Sprint shedding its prepaid assets as one or one of several conditions of regulatory approval.  It's no surprise, if that is the case, that Boost is the sacrificial lamb with its 8.8 million subs versus the more successful T-Mobile's 21.2 million.  T-Mobile can argue that they can keep its own prepaid unit as a counterweight to America Movil's 21.6 million count.  America Movil management has also publicly stated that they'd be willing to look at adding subs from any merger shedding. However, that would put them squarely ahead as the prepaid giant with close to 30 million subs.  How well would those optics look?  Yet with all this conjecture, we won't know until a decision happens in June or July.