The Ratings Game: Has AT&T stock been punished enough? One analyst says the ‘bear case’ is mostly exhausted
After another year of underperformance versus the S&P 500, AT&T Inc.’s “bear case” may have mostly played itself out, according to an analyst.
While AT&T T, +2.77% still faces a number of challenges, Wells Fargo senior equity analyst Eric Luebchow now sees its stock as fairly valued. He upgraded the shares to equal weight from underweight Friday, while boosting his price target by a buck to $27.
AT&T shares declined roughly 14% in 2021 as the S&P 500 SPX, -0.41% increased 27%. That underperformance leaves Luebchow with the sense that the “downside risks are more limited” for the telecommunications stock. There are also some positives, including that AT&T could deliver the strongest service revenue growth in the wireless industry during 2022, he wrote.
Additionally, AT&T is expected to complete its shedding of WarnerMedia assets later this year. The part of AT&T that will remain trades at a roughly 1 to 2 times discount to Verizon Communications Inc. VZ, +2.13% and T-Mobile US Inc. TMUS, -5.04% shares on the basis of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (Ebitda), he said, “despite a prospective yield of ~6% that should be securely covered.”
Luebchow also sees “some optionality for share repurchases (or dividend raises)” over time as AT&T makes progress with its goals on free-cash-flow growth and leverage reduction.
Still, he isn’t ready to turn bullish on the name, arguing that there are still some challenging elements to AT&T’s story. For one, the company appears to be months behind Verizon in getting its 5G network ready for C-band spectrum, based on Luebchow’s conversations with infrastructure players. Additionally, the company has “the weakest mid-band spectrum portfolio,” which could impact its ability to drive net customer additions in the long run.
Shares of AT&T are up 0.6% in Friday afternoon trading. They’ve slipped about 3% over the past three months as the S&P 500 has increased nearly 7%.