AT&T tumbles as bill payment delays hurt annual cash flow, drags peers

FILE PHOTO: The AT&T logo is seen in a store window in New York

By Chavi Mehta and Eva Mathews

(Reuters) -AT&T Inc said some subscribers are taking more time to clear their bills, which partly led the U.S. wireless carrier to cut its annual free cash flow forecast by about $2 billion, sending its shares down as much as 11% on Thursday.

The conservative forecast comes as AT&T joins other companies to prepare for a potential slowdown in consumer spending in the second half of the year against the backdrop of four-decades high inflation in the United States.

Telecom companies have raised prices to combat a surge in input costs, with AT&T hiking rates on some of its older plans in June. This along with some investment-driven impact also triggered AT&T to cut its forecast.

"A more tempered economic climate in the latter half of the year has led us to adjust our cash flow expectations," Chief Executive John Stankey said.

"We view this cycle no differently and still expect customers will pay their bills albeit a little less timely."

AT&T's forecast cut sent shares of rivals Verizon Communications and T-Mobile US lower.

PP Foresight analyst Paolo Pescatore said inflation will drive users to consider signing up for cheaper services.

AT&T now expects full-year free cash flow of about $14 billion, down from its prior forecast of around $16 billion.

It added more than 800,000 monthly bill paying wireless subscribers and 316,000 new broadband customers in the quarter ended June 30 and raised its growth forecast for annual revenue at its wireless service business.

Its total revenue of $29.6 billion was in line with market expectations of $29.55 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

As more businesses shift to software-based services, AT&T said it expects annual core profit at its business wireline unit, which includes legacy voice and data services, to decline in the low double digits. Excluding items, it earned 65 cents per share, beating estimates of 61 cents.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta and Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and Shailesh Kuber)