AT&T can buy Time Warner as judge shuts down Department of Justice

AT&T can buy Time Warner as judge shuts down Department of Justice

AT&T can buy Time Warner as judge shuts down Department of Justice

A federal judge is expected to rule on Tuesday on whether the $85 billion merger that was announced in October 2016 will go through. Instead, a rush to consolidate is likely. Post-merger, AT&T rivals like Charter Communications and Cox, which now pay Time Warner for its channels, would suddenly also become AT&T's customers. 21st Century Fox already agreed in December to sell those assets to Disney, which include all of the movie studio 20th Century Fox, a stake in Hulu, their stake in worldwide broadcaster Sky and many regional sports channels, among other assets. However, AT&T has argued that making such a deal would be necessary to compete against other tech companies.

Shares of both T-Mobile and Sprint rose; their proposed combination is pending.

Leon discouraged the government from asking him to put his own ruling on hold pending appeal, and said that if asked he would deny a stay. But, he added, "the government's evidence is too thin a reed for this court to rely on".

Judge Leon delivered his opinion in a closed courtroom packed with reporters and telecom industry-watchers.

A Comcast-Fox deal would be another vertical merger, like the AT&T-Time Warner deal. The company will now work to complete the merger by June 20th.

The opinion comes 20 months after AT&T announced its plans to buy Time Warner in a transaction then worth nearly $85bn. Comcast and Walt Disney dropped 4.3 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. Disney has made a $52.4 billion all-stock offer for the bulk of Twenty-First Century Fox, including the studios behind the "Avatar" movies, "The Simpsons" and "Modern Family". AT&T's favorable ruling would seem to clear any regulatory hesitation.

With or without Time Warner, AT&T is very focused on its media business.

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The government estimated costs to industry rivals, such as Charter Communications Inc, would increase by $580 million a year if AT&T owned Time Warner. With no phones or computers allowed into the courtroom, and attendees required to stay until after the judge had left the courtroom, the public was left in the dark for almost 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon as they awaited the decision.

Aetna, which is about to be acquired by CVS Health in a $68 billion deal, had its shares jump 3.5 percent, to $187.00.

The Justice Department had argued that AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner would allow it to charge premium prices to rivals who relied on its Turner and HBO channels to woo customers to their cable plans, potentially giving it an unfair advantage in the pay-TV market. Trump weighed in again after the justice department filed its suit: "Personally, I've always felt that that was a deal that's not good for the country".

Shares of AT&T spiked immediately after the announcement and are now down about 2% in after-hours trading.

To see how this could happen, consider that, after the merger, AT&T would have the rights to all of HBO's output, CNN, live National Basketball Association and NCAA broadcasts, and many more desirable Time Warner properties.

While this court case is decided, the U.S. Department of Justice could appeal the ruling.

The mega-merger is a high-stakes bet by AT&T Inc. on the synergy between companies that produce news and entertainment and those that funnel it to consumers.

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