Risk & Compliance

Regulatory Fears Cloud AT&T-Time Warner Deal

Time Warner shares fall 3.1% amid investor concerns that the blockbuster merger will not pass muster with antitrust regulators.
Matthew HellerOctober 25, 2016
Regulatory Fears Cloud AT&T-Time Warner Deal

Time Warner shares fell amid investor concern that the proposed $85.4 billion acquisition of the entertainment conglomerate by AT&T will not win regulatory approval.

AT&T has downplayed the potential regulatory hurdles, with CEO Randall Stephenson saying Monday that he was optimistic about approval because the deal is a “vertical integration” of companies that don’t directly compete against each other instead of a horizontal merger of rivals.

But investors weren’t soothed as Time Warner stock dropped 3.1% Monday to close at $86.74, below the $107.50 offered by AT&T. The shares of an acquisition target don’t normally fall after a deal is announced.

“The market’s certainly worried,” Richard Greenfield, a media industry analyst with BTIG Research, told the Los Angeles Times. “The stock traded down as much as it did because there’s real concern about approval.”

AT&T stock declined 1.7% Monday, with both Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings saying they could downgrade the company’s credit rating.

Consumer advocates, lawmakers and others have already expressed doubts about the deal, which was announced over the weekend and would combine AT&T’s broad communications reach with Time Warner’s array of premium entertainment and media content.

“It aims to concentrate far too much market, communications and political power in one corporation, threatening to impede the free flow of information, undermine the integrity of the Internet, raise consumer prices and further corrupt our politics,” Robert Weissman, president of non-partisan government watchdog Public Citizen, told USA Today.

On Capitol Hill, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, have signaled plans for a hearing on the proposed merger.

The Justice Department is likely to analyze whether the transaction could hurt competition, and it could impose requirements on AT&T that might restrain anti-competitive practices stemming from the deal. The Federal Communications Commission, however, may not be involved because Time Warner owns just one Atlanta-based TV station, which could be spun off and excluded from the deal.