AT&T Considering Europe Market in a New Way?

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, China Mobile and mobile providers in India have advantages over suppliers in many other markets, namely a huge internal market. Some would argue that is why AT&T and Verizon have done relatively better than many European providers over the past several years, in terms of internal revenue growth.

But even a large internal market might not be sufficient to keep a very-large telecom provider growing, indefinitely. So it is that the Wall Street Journal reports AT&T is considering acquiring a European operator. The United Kingdom, Germany or the Netherlands reportedly are seen as the most-viable markets.

Whether the move is simply opportunistic, or evidence that AT&T sees some clear limits to U.S. growth, is not so clear. Some might argue European telco assets currently are undervalued, so an acquisition would be a relatively attractive way to deploy capital and gain revenue.

To be sure, the move would be a bit of a change of strategy. Obviously, AT&T and SBC had been looking at international growth opportunities for at least a decade. But up to this point, no particular deal seemed to make so much sense.

On the other hand, one might argue that AT&T has taken a hard look at its growth prospects, and does not see sufficient revenue mass from any of the new sources it is working on, compared to the advantages of "growing by acquisition."

However much AT&T might be hopeful about the new bets it is placing in applications and services, it does not currently appear that any could represent incremental revenue large enough to move the needle for AT&T, in the near term.

Have we reached a point where even a firm the size of AT&T cannot grow fast enough in the U.S. market? Possibly. The other issue is simply regulator objection. The Federal Communications Commission essentially has told AT&T, by opposing AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA, that it cannot grow larger in the U.S. market.

So, like it or not, the obvious corollary is that AT&T will deploy its capital, and try to grow, elsewhere.
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