Billionaire John Paulson Says 'No' To MetroPCS Deal, Should You?

Marshall is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Billionaire John Paulson is MetroPCS Communication's (NYSE: TMUS) largest shareholder, owning almost 10% of the company's outstanding shares. However, in a statement last week, he announced that his hedge fund Paulson & Co. will oppose MetroPCS' planned merger with Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile business.

MetroPCS is Paulson's 14th largest public equity holding as of the end of 4Q, with him owning some 31.8 million shares. Paulson first took a new position during the third quarter, and then upped his stake by 34% during the fourth quarter (see Paulson's entire portfolio). It appears that many MetroPCS investors have similar feelings as Paulson, as the stock has been pushed down over 20% since the deal's announcement.

The MetroPCS / T-Mobile merger calls for Deutsche to take a 74% stake in the new company, with MetroPCS getting 26%. The benefits for the deal includes gaining access to T-Mobile’s advanced B2B services and Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) platform, while T-Mobile could utilize MetroPCS’ superior market position in its no-contract wireless services (read more about the MetroPCS shareholder upheaval).

Although the merger with T-Mobile would boost MetroPCS’ presence in the 4G space, as well as its spectrum capacity, the deal valuation and debt concerns make the deal unattractive to Paulson and others. Paulson has voiced support for P. Schoenfeld Asset Management’s view that the current deal undervalues MetroPCS’ contribution significantly. His analysis shows that MetroPCS should indeed get upwards of 41.7% of the new company, as opposed to the 26% the current deal affords the company:


Other companies have even come into play as possible acquirers of MetroPCS. Prior to the Detushe announcement, Sprint had considered buying the company for $13.39 per share, and Dish Network had offered $11 per share.

So should investors still invest in MetroPCS regardless of the deal?

AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) have been clamoring for the top U.S. mobile market share for the last couple of years (see who’s the best bet). Although both AT&T and Verizon trade at comparable multiple premiums, they are leaders in the market. Prior to this, a deal for AT&T to acquire T-Mobile fell apart due to antitrust concerns. Meanwhile, Sprint is looking to become more competitive by taking a sizable investment from Softbank, which has afforded the company with the means to snatch up the illustrious Clearwire. However, I still like MetroPCS' presence in emerging markets and the prepaid market, compared to AT&T and Verizon. MetroPCS is a leader in prepaid wireless broadband services; Verizon has less than has less than 2% of the prepaid market share, while AT&T has around 2.5% and Sprint 5%. MertroPCS, on the other hand, has managed to penetrate almost 9% of the prepaid market. The emerging market of prepaid services is expected to account for nearly one-fourth of the wireless market share by 2018.

So how does MetroPCS stack up from a valuation perspective? It’s nearly the cheapest on a number of metrics:

Price to Cash Flow

  • MetroPCS 3.4x
  • Verizon 7.7x
  • US Cellular 4.5x
  • AT&T 8x
  • Deutsche 12.6x

Price to Sales 

  • MetroPCS 0.7x
  • Verizon 1.1x
  • US Cellular 0.7x
  • AT&T 1.6x
  • Deutsche 0.6x

To boot, MetroPCS is also one of the best telecoms with regards to profitability:

 EBITDA Margin

  • MetroPCS 29%
  • Verizon 26%
  • US Cellular 18%
  • AT&T 24%
  • Deutsche n/a

The real future value of MetroPCS remains in its growth. 

5-Year Expected EPS Growth (Wall Street estimates)

  • MetroPCS 16%
  • Verizon 7%
  • US Cellular 6%
  • AT&T 6%
  • Deutsche 17%

Don’t be fooled

Paulson believes that the deal would saddle the new company with too much debt, and that MetroPCS is worth more as a stand-alone company. I believe this appears to be true. MetroPCS has managed to show 20% annual subscriber growth for the last five years and continues to be one of the lowest cost wireless providers. What's more is that the company expects a five-year compounded annual growth rate for free cash flow in the range of 15% to 20%. MetroPCS has many growth prospects as a standalone company, and a buyout could still produce a premium from current trading levels (see all hedge funds owning MetroPCS). 


mhargra has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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