AT&T chairman says credit woes crimping operations

AT&T chairman says credit woes crimping operations


North Carolina: The tightening of the global credit markets is crimping the world’s largest telecommunications company.

AT&T Inc. chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said that his company was unable to sell any commercial paper last week for terms longer than overnight. Commercial paper, which helps lubricate the flow of business operations, is a short-term IOU available to corporations that banks usually know are good for the money.

It’s not that short-term borrowing is unreasonably expensive, Stephenson said. A shortage of buyers for the debt means such borrowing is not as readily available as it had been even three weeks ago, he said.

“It’s loosened up a bit, but it’s day-to-day right now. I mean literally it’s day-to-day in terms of what our access to the capital markets looks like," Stephenson said. AT&T spokesman Larry Solomon said later that as of Tuesday, the company has ready access to the commercial paper market at reasonable rates and various terms.

But as a result of the recent volatility, managers at the Dallas-based phone company are more cautious.

Company is less reliant on debt

AT&T has strong cash flow, which makes it less reliant on debt. But it’s also paying for some big acquisitions of wireless spectrum this year. It had winning bids worth $6.6 billion in the latest auction by the Federal Communications Commission. By comparison, it had $1.6 billion in cash at the end of June.

Credit-ratings firm Moody’s Investor Service said AT&T had $8.5 billion outstanding under its commercial paper program at the end of June.

AT&T backs up its commercial paper sales with two credit facilities, much like credit lines, totaling $13 billion. However, Lehman Brothers was one of the companies underwriting the facilities, and its demise has lopped about 6 percent from the amount AT&T can borrow, according to Bank of America analyst David Barden.

Stephenson was in North Carolina to celebrate the opening of a new call center for AT&T’s broadband Internet service. The 400 jobs planned for the site in a former grocery store are part of 5,000 jobs AT&T decided to bring back to the United States after they were outsourced overseas.