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One of the world's biggest investors has a plan for AT&T - that may close hundreds of stores

2 months ago by Jon Marino in Investor Profile

Paul Singer is ready to make big changes at AT&T ($NYSE:T) - and he says he's got other investors on his side, too. 

The telecom company "has opportunities to increase flexibility and reduce costs in its retail footprint, including closing redundant stores and increasing labor productivity," Singer's Elliott Management wrote in a letter released Monday before the market open. AT&T shares shot up after the opening bell, as investors became optimistic AT&T would do something - anything - to change recent trends of underperformance. 

Our map covers a lot of space - over which AT&T says it has around 16,000 total stores, counting partners like Best Buy ($NYSE:BBY), WalMart ($NYSE:WMT) and CostCo ($NASDAQ:COST). AT&T could do more to rely on partner locations for future retail sites, instead of independent locations of their own - and Singer's analysts may have already figured this out. 

There are also franchisees - but for now, we will focus on the 2,200 company-owned stores, because they could be central to Singer's plan to better-manage AT&T. Managing the company's business better could mean shutting down company-run stores and we can track how many stores that are run by the company, are near another store that is run by someone else. It turns out AT&T has a lot of company-run stores that are near other stores, which puts those at risk of being closed down. 

There are more than 2,100 stores that have one or more other AT&T store within three miles of another, according to our data (not highlighted). Of those, more than 900 - nearly half - are AT&T-owned - meaning that they could be the ones that are impacted by a plan to eliminate "redundant" stores, for several reasons. 

For one, AT&T has improved its ability to activate phones remotely when they are purchased and shipped to a user - or, the company can also send a representative to activate a smartphone, instead of spending for a brick-and-mortar location to house staff and set up new users. But more importantly, it has an ability to dump off company-owned locations and rely on either franchisees, or its partner network, where its digital capabilities don't extend.

And while it may mean good news to Singer and the "60 largest TMT investors" he and his team surveyed before spending billions on AT&T stock, it probably doesn't mean good news to the REIT operators where AT&T's company owned stores run, and definitely not to many of the retail staffers who help run those locations' day-to-day operations. 

About the Data: 

Thinknum tracks companies using information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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Jon Marino

Jon Marino is Thinknum's finance editor, covering the impacts of alternative data on public companies and investors. Prior to joining Thinknum, Jon worked in the ...

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