Earning Cheat Sheet: iPhone Activations Hit Record Highs At AT&T (T)

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is the largest telecommunications company in the United States and one of the largest in the world.  As of Friday’s close, T was carrying $167 billion market cap and a 5.94% dividend.  T is trading near its 52-week highs but remains subject to a great deal of skepticism regarding its future post-iPhone (NASDAQ: AAPL) exclusivity.

Earnings: 3Q profits of $12.34 billion ($2.08/share) vs. 3Q09 profits of $3.19 billion ($0.54/share).  Excluding one-time items, 3Q EPS was $0.55/share.

Revenue: Up 2.8% YoY to $31.58 billion.

Actual vs. Wall St. Expectations: EPS of $0.55/share was in-line with analyst expectations and revenue beat the consensus number by a hair.

Notable Stats: AT&T activated 5.2 million iPhones during the quarter, 62% more than its previous record, set earlier this year.  Approximately 1/4 of the 5.2 million phones were sold to new customers.

In total, 8.4 million iPhones have been activated over the past 6 months, allowing T to lock in a significant portion of its most affluent customers through 2012.

Wireless services revenue rose 10.5% YoY.  Wireline revenue continued to decline.

Did You Hear That? CFO Rick Lindner indicated that 3Q was likely the peak for iPhone activations, stating in an interview that he, “expects the number to ebb toward the end of the year.”

Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T’s mobility and consumer business was a tad more optimistic, remarking that T is “setting the pace for the industry.”

Technicals: Since trading down about 19% from January to July, T has gone a long way towards repairing its chart, actually turning out a nice base.  Still, after finally breaking above its early-January highs, T took a turn for the worse.  Shares have managed to hold their 50-day line, which is upward sloping, but a piercing of that marker on heavy volume would indicate that T’s breakout was indeed a failure.

Commentary: One can’t complain about the massive number of iPhone activations T was able to put together, but management did little on the conference call to address the 800 lb. gorilla in the room; that being Verizon’s (NYSE: VZ) now seemingly inevitable addition of the iPhone to its wireless repertoire, breaking AT&T’s stranglehold on the market for the world’s most popular phone.

Surely, executives at T have seen this coming for a long time, and the company has indeed been adding Android (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Windows Phone 7 (NASDAQ: MSFT) devices as fast as it can reasonably manage, but questions remain as to how T will fare once its golden goose is gone.

Disclosure: No holdings in T.