Verizon iPhone's Impact on AT&T Muted so Far

 |  Includes: AAPL, T, VZ
by: Alacra Pulse Check Blog

By Angus Robertson

Looks like it is not so easy to get mobile phone users to switch carriers, even when offered a shiny new iPhone. Despite all the hype, the long-awaited arrival of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone at Verizon (NYSE:VZ) has had a relatively modest impact on Verizon or AT&T (NYSE:T) – so far.

Verizon activated 2.2 million iPhones during the quarter, compared with 3.6m for AT&T. Verizon did not start selling the iPhone until early February, meaning the numbers are not directly comparable. Against this, early sales at Verizon were likely boosted by the pent-up demand from iPhone users desperate to switch from AT&T’s network and Verizon customers who were desperate for an iPhone.

No doubt some AT&T customers are waiting for their contracts to expire, or for the next generation iPhone due late this year, which will give Verizon the “worldphone” capability it currently lacks. But many remain locked into “friends and family” networks that make switching less appealing.

AT&T’s earnings met analysts’ expectations, while its iPhone sales were up a third from last year despite losing the iPhone exclusivity.

Sanford Bernstein’s Craig Moffett reiterated an Outperform rating on AT&T, writing “is this as bad as it gets, or will the real impact come only later with the iPhone 5?” Moffett notes that the strategy of giving customers early upgrades and spending like crazy on advertising has stemmed defections to Verizon but the deterioration in wireless margins is a sign that it came at a cost.

Michael Nelson with Mizuho Securities notes that the 2 million net additions number in wireless was above his 1.8 million estimate, a good sign after having lost iPhone exclusivity. (Barrons)

The market was unimpressed with Verizon’s results, even though they exceeded expectations.

As Bernstein’s Moffett notes “ Verizon’s stock is priced to perfection and they are going to have to beat expectations by a really high amount for investors to get interested after their earnings.” (MarketWatch)

Moffett, who has an underperform rating and $34 a share target on Verizon’s stock, said the company’s current stock valuation of 16.9 times its 12-month earnings forecast is “an astonishing multiple,” compared with a typical wireless carrier’s valuation of about 12 times future earnings.