Concert: Out of Tune
With both of its parents struggling to shake off their staggering debt loads, the joint telecom venture called Concert is looking more and more like an unwanted child.
The international enterprise, created by AT&T and British Telecommunications while in an expansionist mood, now seems a liability in unforgiving financial markets. Like AT&T, BT is in the midst of a drastic restructuring effort and is trying to refinance its debt. Among the scenarios spelled out in a 111-page document that BT mailed to its shareholders last week was a pooling of AT&T and BT telecom business units in a separately listed company.
The new company could include BTs Ignite unit that provides telecom services to European companies. With AT&Ts business telecom operations, the combined company could be worth as much as $100 billion, according to some estimates.
Among other options described in the BT filing are reducing the scope of Concerts business or ending the venture, which lost $132 million in the first quarter of 2001. "Concert is operating in a highly competitive international market, and the recent fall in prices for carrying international traffic contributed to the loss for the fourth quarter," company officials said in the filing.
BT also detailed plans to spin off its wireless unit, which owns operations in Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and the U.K. Two weeks ago, BT sold its Japan Telecom, The J-Phone Group and Spanish assets to rival Vodafone Group for $7 billion.
As the Concert venture unravels, BTs European rivals France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom are each dumping their 10 percent stakes in U.S. carrier Sprint in an effort to pare down their own heavy debt loads. Like BT, France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom took on massive debt to finance their third-generation wireless licenses.
France Télécom now runs Global One, created as a joint venture with Deutsche Telekom and Sprint. Sprint, whose shares have fallen 63 percent in the past year, last week said that second-quarter and full-year earnings would fall short of forecasts.