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AT&T has cast doubt on the timing of its planned $85.4bn bid for Time Warner, sending the media company’s shares down more than 3 per cent on Wednesday.

John Stephens, AT&T’s chief financial officer, confirmed at an investor conference in New York that the telecoms company was in “active discussions” with the US Department of Justice, which must approve the deal.

“I can’t comment on those discussions, but those discussions, I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain,” he said.

The comments come just a week after The Wall Street Journal reported that the DoJ was “actively considering” whether to challenge the blockbuster transaction that would create the world’s largest vertically integrated content and distribution company. 

Time Warner declined to comment.

AT&T announced its intention to buy the owner of HBO, CNN and the Warner Bros film studio in October 2016 as it seeks to offset the pressures on its legacy video and wireless businesses.

The audacious plan to merge Time Warner’s content production and channel assets with AT&T’s distribution infrastructure will reshape the media and telecoms landscape and was widely expected to draw scrutiny from US regulators. 

The deal was originally set to expire last month but last week AT&T extended its termination deadline “for a short period” while it waited for approval from US regulators. At the time the company said it expected the transaction to close by the end of this year.

The deal has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump, who has railed at CNN’s news coverage and vowed as a candidate to block the deal if he became president, saying it would give AT&T “too much concentration of power”.

Mr Stephens said a “vertical merger like this hasn’t been blocked for over 40 years”.

Time Warner shares fell 3.6 per cent to $91.27, below AT&T’s cash and stock offer price of $107.50.

The stock hit a 16-year high of $103.90 at the start of last month. But since then it has shed 11.5 per cent amid concerns over whether the deal could fall apart. 

AT&T shares edged down 0.2 per cent to $33.

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