November 29, 2018 / 9:18 PM / 17 days ago

AT&T commits to cutting up to $20 billion in debt in 2019

(Reuters) - AT&T Inc (T.N) said on Thursday it has committed to cutting its heavy debt load next year through a variety of measures, including a review of all of its non-core assets such as its stake in streaming video company Hulu for possible sale.

An AT&T logo is pictured in Pasadena, California, U.S., January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The second-largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers said at an analyst meeting in New York that it will pay down $18 billion to $20 billion of its debt by the end of 2019, and will generate up to $8 billion in cash in part through the sale of some assets.

Shares of AT&T, which rose 1 percent in after hours trade during the presentation, are down 21 percent so far this year as investors have been concerned about its heavy debt - which totaled $183 billion as of Sept. 30 - after its purchase of media company Time Warner.

The company said it expects 2019 free-cash flow of about $26 billion, above analysts’ average estimate of $24.84 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

AT&T said the growth in free cash flow will help achieve its end-of-year net-debt-to-adjusted-EBITDA ratio of 2.5 times range.

AT&T expects 2019 adjusted earnings per share to grow in low single digits, while analysts are expecting a 1.7 percent rise.

The company also gave fresh details about a new streaming rival to Netflix that is expected to be launched by the end of 2019 by WarnerMedia, the new segment that includes the Turner networks and premium channel HBO.

The new product will include three tiers of service: an entry-level package focused on movies, a premium tier with original programming and the highest tier will include licensed content from other providers.

AT&T said it hopes to eventually lure enough subscribers to make up for the continuous decline in linear video customers from its satellite TV company DirecTV. The company said it expects a decline in video subscribers in 2019 consistent with the pace of decrease in the third quarter of 2018.

AT&T lost more satellite TV customers than Wall Street expected in the third quarter, shedding a net 359,000 subscribers, as viewers move to services like Netflix (NFLX.O) and Hulu.

Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Kenneth Li and Tom Brown

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