NEW YORK (AP) — Verizon, the once-unstoppable cellphone leader in the U.S., lost key wireless customers for the first time, even as it brought back unlimited data plans to counter smaller rivals.
In the first three months of the year, Verizon lost 307,000 wireless subscribers who are billed each month, the more lucrative kind of wireless customer. MoffettNathanson Research says it’s the first-ever lost in that category, which covers phones, tablets, smartwatches and other connections. For cellphones alone, Verizon lost 289,000 customers. Verizon said it would have lost even more customers if it hadn’t launched the unlimited plan.
Total wireless revenue fell 5 percent to $20.9 billion, because of fewer customers and less money coming from the fees Verizon charges when customers go over their data limits. Unlimited plans don’t have those fees.
Growth in the wireless subscribers has slowed down now that most Americans have a cellphone. Instead, companies have been poaching customers from each other with lower prices and offers to pay people to switch.
Last year, T-Mobile gained 3.3 million of the lucrative phone customers — “post-paid” in industry jargon — while Sprint gained 910,000, according to MoffettNathanson. Much of that came at the expense of AT&T, which lost 1.2 million last year. Verizon gained 209,000, but that was smaller than 1.1 million gained in 2015.
Verizon has had quarterly losses in post-paid phone customers before, but not when other wireless connections are included.
Verizon has been able to retain customers thanks to its high-quality network. While Sprint and T-Mobile have gotten better, they don’t have as extensive a reach into the most rural parts of the country. T-Mobile responded with other perks, such as free data when traveling abroad and when watching video from major streaming services in the U.S. T-Mobile ultimately turned to unlimited plans, as did Sprint, forcing Verizon to resurrect something it had ditched nearly six years ago.
Verizon’s unlimited plans are more expensive than options from Sprint and T-Mobile, so the company will have to show it still has the ability to draw customers willing to pay more for a better network. AT&T’s unlimited plan costs about the same as Verizon’s; a cheaper unlimited option has fewer features.
The competitive wireless market has led to speculation that Verizon will try to buy another company to broaden its business. AT&T has purchased satellite TV company DirecTV and is trying to buy Time Warner, the entertainment conglomerate behind CNN, TBS and HBO. Verizon has purchased AOL and is wrapping up a deal for Yahoo in an attempt to build a digital ad and media business, efforts that so far have not brought much competition to Facebook and Google. Revenue from Verizon’s AOL unit fell 4 percent in the first quarter.
For its Fios service, which delivers internet and TV to people’s homes, Verizon added 35,000 internet subscribers, lost 13,000 cable subscribers and lost 8,000 voice subscribers.
Verizon Communications Inc.’s profit fell 20 percent, to $3.45 billion, or 84 cents per share, in the first quarter. Analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research called for earnings of 98 cents per share.
Revenue fell 7 percent to $29.81 billion, missing analyst expectations of $30.5 billion, according to Zacks.
Shares dropped 49 cents, or 1 percent, to $48.45 in afternoon trading Thursday. The stock has fallen 9.6 percent since the beginning of the year.
Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on VZ at https://www.zacks.com/ap/VZ
SEATTLE (AP) — A Starbucks barista has taken to social media hoping to make orders for the coffee chain’s much buzzed about Unicorn Frappuccino disappear.
Starbucks’ entry into the unicorn food craze was released Wednesday and its popularity was too much for 19-year-old Colorado barista Braden Burson. He posted a video on Twitter after his shift complaining that it was difficult to keep up with orders for the drink and he’s “never been so stressed out” in his life.
The Unicorn Frappuccino is a sweet and sour pink and blue cream swirl topped with what Starbucks calls “fairy powder.” Burson says in the video that a day of making the treat left him with sticky hands and residue from the drink stuck to his clothes and in his hair.
Burson tells The Associated Press that he didn’t think his rant would get this much publicity and he didn’t intend to “downgrade” the drink.
“It’s a great drink. But it is difficult to make when there are like 20 fraps all at once both front and drive thru,” he wrote in a Facebook message.
Starbucks said in a statement Thursday that the popular reception of the drink has “exceeded everyone’s expectations.” It added that it is reaching out to Burson “to talk about his experience and how to make it better.”
Burson said he hadn’t heard from the company as of midday Thursday.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s return of a Chinese asylum seeker this week is a likely bid by President Tsai Ing-wen to stabilize relations with Beijing that have been in sharp decline since her election last year, analysts said Thursday.
Officials in Taipei said Chinese national Zhang Xiangzhong lacked legal grounds to stay in Taiwan after breaking away from his tour group on April 13. The 48-year-old civil rights activist had sought political refugee status in Taiwan, but flew back to China after agreeing that would be the best solution.
With dialogue between the two governments suspended by Beijing, analysts said that Tsai’s administration may hope China sees Zhang’s return as a goodwill gesture and responds in kind.
“It could be interpreted as an olive branch,” said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. “I think all parties are looking for opportunities.”
Taiwan separated from China amid civil war in 1949, and over the past three decades has developed into a vibrant democracy with political freedoms unknown in authoritarian, communist-ruled China.
Despite that, Beijing claims sovereignty over the island and insists on eventual unification. It cut off contacts with Tsai’s government in June because the president, whose Democratic Progressive Party advocates Taiwan’s independence, refused to endorse Beijing’s view that the island and mainland are parts of a single Chinese nation.
Tsai wants to keep relations stable with China to honor election pledges to pursue neither Taiwan’s formal independence nor unification with Beijing.
Granting asylum for Zhang could have angered China, prompting it to ramp up efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and punish it economically. Over the past 10 months, China has scaled back group tourism to the island by about 30 percent, blocked Taiwan’s participation in international forums, sent an aircraft carrier around the island and established diplomatic relations with Taiwan’s former African ally Sao Tome and Principe.
While China hasn’t formally acknowledged Zhang’s case, it could reciprocate without saying why, particularly in the case of Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, who was detained in China last month under suspicion of conducting activities harming China’s national security.
Chinese authorities have so far refused to provide details of the conditions under which Lee is being held or of the charges against him.
China could now be more forthcoming with information and may even release the 42-year-old Taipei university program manager, said Shane Lee, a political scientist at Chang Jung Christian University in the southern city of Tainan.
“It’s probably part of a deal,” Lee said. “This time, I think both sides need a way to step back down.”
While neither side is like to acknowledge the existence of a quid pro quo, Zhang’s return could give Beijing a reason to resolve Lee’s case, said Alan Romberg, director of the East Asia program at think tank The Stimson Center in Washington.
“Although (China) will insist that it will handle Lee’s case in accordance with its own laws, it is already paying a significant price in terms of public opinion in Taiwan,” Romberg said.
A deputy minister for the Taiwanese Cabinet’s Mainland Affairs Council responsible for China policy, Chiu Chui-cheng, denied any connection between the two cases and said Zhang returned to China voluntarily.
Zhang, who returned with his original tour group on Wednesday night, had previously been jailed by China in connection with political activities. However, Taiwan’s immigration agency said his asylum request could not be accommodated under its regulations, including rules on Chinese tourists.
Taiwan stopped offering political asylum to Chinese citizens after a series of plane hijackings in the 1990s by people seeking to flee China for Taiwan, but it has offered long-term residency to some mainland Chinese.
Lin Chong-pin, a retired professor and former deputy Taiwanese defense minister, said Zhang’s case was handled carefully to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo.
Despite that, “The picture is that the two sides have some kind of tacit understanding or tacit communications,” Lin said.
Huang said it now appears Beijing may be seeking to improve relations after nearly a year of frostiness, possibly to deter arguments in favor of strengthened support for Taiwan from the administration of President Donald Trump, who angered China when he spoke with Tsai by phone in December before taking office.
At this point, any sort of deal making between the sides would be a good thing, said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii.
“It suggests China is willing to carry on a somewhat normal relationship beneath a facade of what they think is standing on principle,” Roy said.
Associated Press video journalist Johnson Lai contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — Earnings at The Associated Press shrank substantially last year compared with 2015, when the news organization enjoyed a large tax benefit that skewed its results. Revenue also edged downward, reflecting continued contraction in the newspaper industry and a stronger U.S. dollar that reduced the value of overseas sales.
Net income last year shrank to $1.6 million from $183.6 million in 2015, a 99 percent decline. The 2015 profit figure was bolstered by a one-time, $165 million tax benefit. AP’s 2014 net income of $140.9 million was also boosted by a large non-recurring gain from the sale of a stake in a sports data company. In 2013, net income at the AP — a not-for-profit news cooperative — was $3.3 million.
Although AP’s 2016 profit was slightly less than half that of 2013, AP chief financial officer Ken Dale said last year brought the company’s net results “back to more normal levels.”
Dale said he was focused on other measures of the company’s financial health. “We feel like we’re financially stable, we have no debt and we continue to generate positive cash flow,” he said. AP ended 2016 with $24.7 million in cash and equivalents, down from $50.6 million the year before.
Revenue at AP, which reported its earnings Wednesday, dropped 2 percent to $556.3 million in 2016. The news agency gave some papers lower rates in exchange for longer contracts, Dale said. The number of U.S. newspaper customers didn’t change much.
AP’s annual revenue peaked in 2008 at $748 million, and has mostly fallen since then, battered by the shift to online media and the decline of newspapers. The news agency, which sells other media organizations subscriptions to its print stories, videos and photos, has worked to make up the shortfall by investing more in video and focusing on new overseas customers.
Revenue related to the 2016 presidential election offset some of the decline. AP charges TV networks and newspapers extra for its vote-counting services. The agency’s international video division also showed marginal growth. AP expects further growth in video revenue, particularly from the Middle East and Asia.
Nearly half of AP’s revenue comes from TV broadcasters. Newspapers account for 23 percent of revenue. U.S. papers make up the bulk of that, contributing 19 percent of total revenue. Internet companies like Yahoo and Microsoft contribute about another 10 percent. AP also gets money from other agencies and radio stations.
Expenses rose nearly 2 percent last year to $562.7 million, a sum that included $16.6 million in costs related to the move of AP’s headquarters to lower Manhattan from midtown. That move is expected to save the company $10 million annually going forward. AP also laid off some news staffers last year.
AP held its annual meeting in New York Wednesday. Four new directors were named to the organization’s 21-member board: Emily Barr, president and CEO of Graham Media Group, which owns seven local TV stations; Lisa DeSisto, CEO of MaineToday Media, which publishes newspapers in Maine; William Lewis, CEO of News Corp.’s Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal; and Michael Newhouse, director and senior executive of Advance/Newhouse, a magazine and newspaper publisher with cable interests.
Vice chairman Steven Swartz, the president and CEO of newspaper and magazine publisher Hearst Corp., was named chairman of AP’s board, succeeding Lee Enterprises Inc. executive chairman Mary Junck.
BERLIN (AP) — The best-known figure in the nationalist Alternative for Germany says that she won’t be its top candidate in September’s German election — a decision that appears to reflect growing opposition among other leading members of the party.
Frauke Petry ousted co-founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, to become the party’s chairwoman in 2015. Opposition to immigration and Islam have taken center stage in the party’s platform since then.
But the party also has become increasingly mired in infighting between Petry, her husband Marcus Pretzell and other senior figures.
Petry said in a video message posted Wednesday on Facebook that she won’t lead the party’s election campaign, either alone or as part of a team.
SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AP) — Yahoo is bowing out as a public company with its revenue still declining, a chronic problem that culminated in its sale to Verizon Communications.
Despite the revenue downturn, Yahoo fared better during the first three months of the year than analysts had anticipated — a low bar that was another sign of how far the internet pioneer has fallen during the past decade.
The results released Tuesday will mark the final quarterly report of Yahoo’s 21-year history as a publicly traded company unless the Verizon deal unexpectedly falls apart. Yahoo expects the $4.5 billion sale to close in June before the end of the second quarter.
The deal’s final price reflects a $350 million markdown that Yahoo gave Verizon to compensate for the damage caused by two different security breaches that resulted in personal information being stolen from more than 1 billion Yahoo user accounts.
After Verizon takes over, Yahoo’s $8 billion in cash and valuable stakes in two Asian internet companies — Alibaba Group and Yahoo Japan — will be turned over to a newly created company called Altaba. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer won’t be part of Altaba, and she isn’t expected to join Verizon to oversee the Yahoo email and other digital services being sold. If she doesn’t have a job, Mayer will receive a $23 million severance package.
Mayer, a former Google executive who has been Yahoo’s CEO for nearly five years, defended her track record in a statement accompanying the first-quarter numbers.
“I’ve never been more proud of the improvements we’ve made to the business and the value we’ve delivered to our shareholders,” Mayer said.
Yahoo’s stock has tripled during Mayer’s reign, but the run-up was driven by the company’s stake in Alibaba, which is China’s e-commerce leader and boasts a market value of $278 billion. The Sunnyvale, California, company invested in Alibaba before Mayer’s arrival.
Mayer had hoped to turn around Yahoo, but instead oversaw further erosion even while investing heavily in mobile applications and video. She couldn’t solve a problem that dogged Yahoo for most of the past decade — how to get a larger piece of the digital advertising sales that increasingly have been flowing toward Google and Facebook, a pair of companies that once were smaller than Yahoo.
After subtracting ad commissions, Yahoo’s revenue totaled $834 million in the first quarter, a 3 percent decrease from last year. In the first full quarter of Mayer’s tenure, Yahoo’s revenue after ad commissions stood at $1.1 billion.
Yahoo earned $100 million, or 10 cents per share, in the first quarter, rebounding from a loss of $99 million, or 10 cents per share, last year. If not for certain accounting items unrelated to its ongoing business, Yahoo said it would have earned 18 cents per share, topping the average estimate of 16 cents per share among six analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research.
Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research.