MetroPCS's Big Year Ahead


Wireless carrier MetroPCS (PCS) should be a recession winner: It offers all-you-can-talk wireless service as cheap as $30 per month, and sells unlimited everything for $50 a month — still less than most people spend for basic wireless service from big carriers like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ). And as cash-pinched people cancel their home land lines, MetroPCS could gain even more.

So we’re inclined to look beyond the fact that MetroPCS significantly missed the Street’s Q4 sales expectations, posting $724 million in sales versus $765 million consensus. Instead, we’re looking forward to a potentially bright 2009. MetroPCS just made two high-profile launches in New York and Boston, where they could quickly add subscribers.

The company reiterated its full-year guidance that it issued last November: MetroPCS expects to sign up 1.4-1.7 million net subscribers in 2009, more than the 1.4 million it added in 2008.

Some of MetroPCS’s operational stats are looking good: In a note today, Goldman Sachs analyst Scott Malat says the carrier’s cost per gross subscriber acquisition ($120, down 13% y/y) reflected smart spending. Similarly, MetroPCS’s cost per user ($13, down 13% y/y) in core (non-expansion) markets shows that MetroPCS can keep costs lower than big rivals — whose are $20-25 per user — making it harder for them to compete on price.

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