Technology

Satirical conference call thumps Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile for earnings spin

A Bernstein analyst’s satire drew upon the two charts on the right of this slide from Sprint’s recent earnings call. They show “something that investors like to see going down, going down, and something that investors like to see going up, going up.” Without an axis or numbers, readers don’t know how much.
A Bernstein analyst’s satire drew upon the two charts on the right of this slide from Sprint’s recent earnings call. They show “something that investors like to see going down, going down, and something that investors like to see going up, going up.” Without an axis or numbers, readers don’t know how much.

The telecom industry took a satirical thumping in this week’s installment of the “Weekend Media Blast” from Bernstein Research.

Bernstein’s Friday reports typically feed reporters the skinny on an industry trend, delve into technologies affecting corporate decisions or pick through a merger deal the media’s been writing about.

The analysts who write the Weekend Media Blast frequently have fun doing it.

Friday’s Blast was a poke at all the spin and misdirection that telecom companies employ during their quarterly conference calls about the latest earnings results and business updates.

Senior analyst Paul de Sa penned a faux transcript of the Weekend Media Blast’s own quarterly call and packed it with too-candid versions of what listeners to the real calls likely have heard before.

And he took equal opportunity swings at many of the big players, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Dish Network and CenturyLink.

Here are a few telltale comments from the Blast’s phantom call transcript.

“In our objective opinion, this has been another truly great quarter for the WMB (Weekend Media Blast). Admittedly, we say that every quarter, but if things were bad we’d totally tell you.”

“We plan to talk about failures in the passive tense as if we had nothing to do with them. For example, ‘Our initiatives led to a significant increase in revenue,’ but ‘Mistakes were made.’”

“This quarter, we changed our reporting for the fourth time this year, putting all growing businesses into a ‘Strategic’ segment and everything else into ‘Legacy.’ As a result, we are pleased to announce that our Strategic segment grew in 4Q15.”

Along the way, de Sa laced the fake transcript with footnotes that cite moments from real calls that inspired the foolery.

Sprint received noogies from de Sa for what he labeled “Free-floating columns of the Week.” He was picking up on the Overland Park-based company’s use of graphs to depict trends without providing numbers or an axis to quantify the changes being depicted.

“Moving on to our first slide, which shows ... something that investors like to see going down, going down, and something that investors like to see going up, going up...”

The Blast call transcript pictured a portion of Slide 8 from Sprint’s real earnings presentation for its Jan. 26 quarterly call with investors and analysts. In his footnote, de Sa accurately reported that nine of the 19 graphs in Sprint’s slide presentation were of the numberless and axis-free variety.

In an email, a Sprint spokeswoman said the charts are intended as visual representations of Sprint’s progress in key metrics.” The company publicly discloses information needed to comply with regulations and laws, it said.

At another point in the Blast transcript, AT&T takes its lumps for some of the same. De Sa used a stacked bar chart from Slide 12 of AT&T’s presentation to analysts last August. AT&T was highlighting three sources of potential cost savings but without numbers to quantify them. De Sa added the headline “Expected costs savings will be huge. And multicolored.”

An AT&T spokesman declined to comment.

The Blast call also took a sharp jab a widely practiced habit of measuring results with yardsticks not found in generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. These departures are questioned frequently, as in this Associated Press dispatch last summer and The Wall Street Journal’s report on telecom’s fondness for the “financial obfuscation of the dot.com era.”

Blast’s imagined call: “We strongly urge you to ignore those (GAAP) and instead focus on metrics that we are able to make up without constraint.”

In this case, the footnote took on T-Mobile’s twists in measuring its average revenue per user, or ARPU in industry lingo. The footnote cited T-Mobile’s first quarter call in 2015: “ARPU declined slightly...all other ARPU metrics, ABPU, ARPA and ABPA, increased sequentially.”

T-Mobile, when contacted, did not comment.

And the Blast call wrap up: “Operator, please open the line to the analysts we don’t hate for questions we won’t answer.”

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, on Twitter @mdkcstar

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