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Sprint Stock Jumps as Much as 22% as It Prepares to Raise Prices

Inside A Sprint Corp. Store Ahead Of Earnings FiguresInside A Sprint Corp. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure told a group of Wall Street analysts on Monday just what they wanted to hear. Unfortunately, it may not be what Sprint’s customers want to hear: higher prices are coming in the “not too distant future.”

Claure’s initial efforts over the past few years to revive Sprint from near-death have involved a lot of cost cutting and a lot of bargains to attract new customers. The carrier’s current commercials tout rates that are 50% off the standard monthly charges at Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. But now that the company has stabilized and started adding customers again, the clock is ticking on the bargain prices.

“The 50% off promotion is not going to go on forever,” Claure told the analysts. “There will be a time in the not so distant future in which we’re going to go back to traditional rate plans and we are doing some testing of other rate plans. As we get more momentum in the market like we’re doing now, then it’s going to be the time to increase pricing.”

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The stock market was thrilled to hear the news, along with positive results in Sprint’s just completed fiscal first quarter. Shares of the 4th-ranked U.S. wireless carrier shot up as much as 22% to $5.65 in morning trading on Monday, the highest price since November, 2014.

The wireless market has been kind to consumers for the past few years as first T-Mobile (TMUS) and then Sprint (S) adopted lower prices as a way to win customers away from their larger rivals Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T). For a time, even the two giants engaged in some promotional price cutting as well. But three weeks ago, Verizon raised its monthly charges, signaling that the price wars might be ending.

Sprint, which carries a huge debt load of over $30 billion, also impressed Wall Street by raising cash through a variety of creative maneuvers this year, including selling and leasing back the use of some of its network equipment. Sprint said it now has an $11 billion liquidity cushion, which includes cash on hand as well as available borrowing capacity. Excluding some expenses, the carrier said it would break even on free cash flow this year.

The carrier said it added a net 173,000 regular, monthly customers in the quarter ended June 30, after losing 12,000 such customers in the same period last year. It marked Sprint’s fourth quarter in a row of additions and the highest increase for the April through June quarter in nine years.

AT&T, by contrast, has been losing regular, monthly customers for almost two years. Last quarter it lost a net 266,000 postpaid customers, for example. So it has tried to turn the focus on its growth in prepaid customers who don’t get a regular monthly bill.