* Q4 rev $32.58 bln vs Street view $32.2 bln
* CEO says may look for ways to benefit from overseas growth
* CEO says may consider smartphone installment plans
* Subscriber growth beat estimates, wireless margins miss
By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK, Jan 24 AT&T Inc's fourth-quarter
revenue rose faster than expected and the telephone company
promised more growth this year even if the economy does not
Along with growth from its existing business, Chief
Executive Randall Stephenson said on Thursday that AT&T is also
eyeing overseas opportunities. He said the idea would be to
profit from wireless expansion in countries where services are
not yet as advanced as in the United States.
"The question is if there are opportunities for us to
participate in that growth around the world" Stephenson said on
a conference all with analysts. "There's just a lot of different
ways to think about it. There's a lot of options."
Stephenson declined to say if it could involve overseas
acquisitions in response to a question about a recent report
that it was considering overseas transactions. Instead, he
listed options such as international roaming deals for AT&T
customers traveling overseas and the possibility for overseas
expansion of a home security business AT&T is developing.
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service provider, posted
stronger than expected fourth quarter subscriber growth but this
also put pressure on its wireless profit margin as it spends
heavily on every new subscriber it signs up.
It added 780,000 mobile subscribers in the quarter compared
with the average expectation for 699,200 from 10 analysts, with
the lowest estimate at 475,000 and the majority of estimates at
700,000 or higher.
While the company's sale of 8.6 million Apple Inc
iPhones in the quarter helped subscriber numbers it hurt profits
as AT&T pays Apple a big subsidy for every iPhone it sells so it
can offer discounts to customers who commit to contracts.
AT&T's wireless service profit margin based on earnings
before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization was 29.1
percent, compared with the average expectation for 31.29 percent
from ten analysts contacted by Reuters.
Stephenson said he would keep a close watch on a strategy
outlined by smaller rival T-Mobile USA to offer smartphone
installment plans under which consumers would pay for their
smartphones gradually. If it followed this plan it would mean
that AT&T would not have to pay a big upfront subsidy.
"That's something we've looked at on several occasions. I
kind of like that idea," Stephenson said. "Its something we're
going to be watching."
AT&T forecast earnings per share growth in the upper-single
digit percentage range or higher and revenue growth exceeding 2
percent for 2013 based on strength in wireless and its wireline
"Guidance was good but not dramatically good," said Hudson
Square Research analyst Todd Rethemeier.
AT&T's fourth quarter loss was $3.86 billion or 68 cents per
share, compared with a loss of $6.68 billion or $1.12 per share
in the year-ago quarter when it took big charges including the
break-up fee for its failed purchase of T-Mobile USA, a Deutsche
Revenue rose to $32.58 billion from $32.5 billion and
compared with Wall Street expectations for $32.2 billion,
according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
While AT&T's wireless subscriber growth was better than
expected it was slower than bigger rival Verizon Wireless, a
venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc
, which reported subscriber additions of 2.1 million on
Sprint Nextel, the No. 3 U.S. mobile provider, does not
report its results until Feb. 7.
AT&T shares were largely unchanged in late trade after
closing at $33.75 in the regular New York Stock Exchange