Selected Topics in Finance ΙΙ
Nanyang Business School
In this report we will identify business risk that AT&T experienced due to their divestiture in 1982. We will conduct our analysis based on financial concepts, and finally recommend necessary actions that should have been conducted when the company formulated its financial policy in 1983. 2. AT&T Background
AT&T was founded in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell. Prior to the divestiture AT&T had been a force to be reckoned with for over a century within the telephone service industry. Before the divestiture the company served over 80% of the US telecommunications users. The sale of these services took place at their 22 local subsidiaries. AT&T was the largest enterprise in the world with total assets of $137.8 billion and revenue of $58.1 billion. Given the size of the company they had hired a total of 1,060,378 workers. With a total number of 3,055,495 shareholders, where 95.3% held less than 600 shares each. Ever since 1885 AT&T had continued to pay its dividend to the shareholders, they never lowered the payment. The divestiture that AT&T experienced was a result of an agreement of the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against the company in 1982, which required a major rearrangement of AT&T’s capital structure. The agreement lead to several changes in the structure of the company, and one major change that had a significant impact on the company was how they managed their distribution channels. Prior to the divestiture they sold their services through their 22 local telephone subsidiaries, the company would now be spun off into seven independent regional corporations; NYNEX, (N.Y. Telephone and New England Telephone), Bell Atlantic (N.J. Bell, Bell of Pennsylvania, Diamond State Telephone and four Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Companies), Bell South (South Central Bell and Southern Bell), Ameritech (Indiana Bell, Michigan Bell, Illinois Bell, Wisconsin Bell and Ohio Bell), U.S. West (Mountain Bell, Pacific Northwest Bell and Northwestern Bell), Southwestern Bell (Southwestern Bell) and Pacific Telesis (Pacific Telephone, Nevada Bell).
3. Historical Financial Policy
AT&T’s overall financial policy, including target debt ratio and interest coverage, was designed to maintain an AAA bond rating, which allowed them to reduce borrowing cost and in addition make sure that funds were available in periods of severe financial dislocation. The dividend policy was relatively conservative for a utility with a target payout ratio of 60% and an actual payout of 58-67%. Their low payout ratio was determined by AT&T’s large capital requirements and the desire to provide some protection for maintaining the stability of dividends. Stockholders reinvested approximately one third of the dividends. Due to the increased competition and the volatile regulatory climate, AT&T returned to a more conservative financial policy. Between late 1970 and 1980 the managers were reluctant to issue more equity through sales of stocks because the company’s market value was below its book value per share. However, the financial history shows that AT&T allowed investors to purchase new stocks using their current dividends at 95% of current market price. 4. Principal Problem
AT&T’s principal problem was not the need to raise funds to finance investments, but whether the debt and equity ratios were appropriate for the “new” AT&T. This needs to correspond with the company’s financial and strategic goals, and be adapted to the market and uncertainties that the company is facing. AT&T’s strategic goal has been to please the potential stockholders categorized as widows and orphans. Widows and orphans are used to describe stocks with a relatively high degree of safety and a stable dividend income. Due to changes in the market...
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