Why It’s Tough to Bet Against T-Mobile CEO John Legere

May 1, 2018, 6:48 PM UTC

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Good morning. Alan Murray here, filling in this week for Adam Lashinsky.

Investors yesterday prematurely threw in the towel on the T-Mobile merger with Sprint, driving both stocks down on the assumption that antitrust regulators will block the deal. Contributing to investor pessimism was the fact that the merger deal didn’t include a break up fee…suggesting the companies themselves have no great confidence in their ability to win approval in Washington. Some were also dismayed by the companies’ financial forecast for this year, distributed Sunday as part of the merger announcement.

But T-Mobile CEO John Legere clearly isn’t giving up. Sure, moving from four telecom carriers to three seems to presents a classic antitrust problem, with research showing consumers usually lose in such cases. But Legere is arguing two things make this different:

First, the battle for 5G. My colleague Aaron Pressman, who has done hands down the best coverage on this topic, has written here about how the Trump administration’s obsession with China is driving Legere’s latest urge to merge. Expect him to be in Washington arguing that AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) have taken their eyes off the prize, with acquisitions in media, and only a combined T-Mobile (TMUS) and Sprint (S) can assure that a dangerous “5G” gap doesn’t open up between China and the U.S.

Then, second, there is Legere himself. He is the “uncarrier,” champion of the consumer, and will never become a cozy oligopolistic, he insists. Giving him more market clout will increase competition and help consumers, regardless of what the models say.

I especially like the second argument. Legere has recast the role of CEO, becoming a one-man disruption band, almost Trump-like in his use of Twitter to attack his opponents. It’s worth re-reading Pressman’s February piece on him to take the measure of the man. I don’t know if passion, drive, and sheer brashness can win an antitrust battle. But if it ever can, this will be the one.

In any case, this will be fun to watch. Given his record of success, I’m inclined to give Legere better odds than the market is.

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