It May Be Time for Apple to Buy Sprint

by: Dana Blankenhorn

Sprint's (NYSE:S) latest earnings disappointment, which has collapsed the value of the company below $5 per share, should lead to speculation over its future.

The wireless carrier is whipsawed by higher capital spending and lower prices, part of a deliberate choice to wholesale its capacity to others, as in its latest deal with Lightsquared. Wholesaling reduces selling costs, but apparently not enough to make up for the lower revenue.

People have been talking about breaking up Sprint for years, since its market cap was $50 billion. (It's now closer to $15 billion.) And it has been in play for a long time, too. Before AT&T (NYSE:T) agreed to buy T-Mobile, that company was talking up a merger with Sprint.

AT&T outbid Sprint for T-Mobile with cash and a fat $3 billion break-up fee. Since then Sprint has been straining every sinew to kill the deal and trigger the fee.

Last time the stock was in this territory, Ed Ketchoyian offered a list of possible suitors. (Verizon insists right now it's not among them.) The most interesting name on the list was Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who might like to kill Nextel's competition in his own country and, perhaps, extend Telmex' brand reach into the U.S. (He tried that once before, with CompUSA. Didn't work.)

Branding is the key to any deal and any comeback. Wireless spectrum is worth only what you can get for it, from customers. So who has a brand name that could be leveraged quickly and get consumer traction?

I got one. Apple (OTC:APPL) could do the deal for cash, use Sprint's existing retail network as an extension of their existing footprint, take all the money consumers are now dishing out for service, and still have $60 billion left in the bank.

If they even hinted at such a move I guarantee that would bring in other computer heavyweights, like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), into the bidding war. Sprint's people could then become a service outfit, which is what it is today, only for weaker brands.

Let those takeover rumors begin!

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.